10th November 2000 at 00:00
THE DIARY OF A YOUNG NURSE IN WORLD WAR II. By Moira Butterfield. Watts pound;8.99

I have just come from an infant class where the teacher was struggling to make the children believe that trees have to be chopped down to make paper. The same class had just happily accepted that a fairy flew around their classroom last night and delivered teddy bears into their book trays. How fine is the line between fact and fantasy for the young.

When fiction is dressed up as fact children can quickly lose hold on reality. Authors using these strategies do sometimes succeed in bringing the powerful forces of imagination into play, which help children understand historic events (as in Iain Serraillier's novel The Silver Sword, for example), but they also run a risk of sowing the seed of confusion.

This book looks as if it might be a history book. There is a glossary (ARP, Blitz and so on) and a few historical facts to set the narrative going. Nevertheless, it is a work of fiction set on the Home Front in World War II. The story, of a young nurse called Jean, starts on December 19, 1939 and finishes on March 7, 1946. The dates are significant because, as the story is told in diary form, the structure of the book depends on them.

I am not convinced that adding this layer of spurious reality is necessarily a good thing - a collection of diary quotations from real people or a good yarn set in the context of true events, would certainly have been more straightforward. But the book reads smoothly and there are plenty of facts to digest.

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