‘Myth-conceptions’ of World War I in diaries and epistolatory fiction for children.

Maggie Andrews and Jean Webb, University of Worcester

Diaries and epistolatory prose for children both convey and imply a sense of veracity about the factual, social and historical content combined with emotional realism i.e. because the first person narrative is used and the diary recounts personal experience the intimation is that there is a reality, and a set of ‘truths’ which underlie the work, even if it is fiction per se. Study of this epistolatory form in children’s literature demonstrates that through this popular form myths and misconceptions have been and are perpetuated about World War One, even in texts which purport to teach history through this kind of reading experience. The paper will also discuss the change in the representation of war to a personalised history and how this is reflected in a selection of texts for children. Texts will include for example: Valerie Wilding’s My Story, Road to War: a First World War Girl’s Diary 1916-17 (2008); Piet Kuhr There We’ll Meet Again: Young German Girl’s Diary of the First World War (1982)

The proposal is for a joint paper between Prof Maggie Andrews, a cultural historian whose work covers the social and cultural history of twentieth century Britain and the representation of that history within popular culture. She is very much involved with the World War One Commemorations on a national scale, for instance as an advisor to the BBC for their ‘World War One at Home’ project. Jean Webb is Professor of International Children’s Literature, which makes this an interesting and dynamic interdisciplinary proposal.

Intergenerational memory in English and German Young Adult Literature

Cordula Böcking, Dept. of German and Dutch, University of Cambridge

Young adult literature about the First World War produced since the 1970s faces the challenge of addressing the strong moral points that have become integral parts of war writing in a post-memory period. Through a comparative analysis of German and English young adult fiction, this paper aims to investigate how the ‘parable’ of war as a morally instructive event is represented through intergenerational memory. Lawrence Harris’ Jackie was a Hero (1996) is the story of English twins who take a school trip to the Somme where, with the help of a magic camcorder that acts as a time-travelling device, they uncover the story of their great-uncle who was posted ‘missing believed killed in action’. In Maja Nielsen’s Feldpost für Pauline (2013), a bundle of 100-year old letters allows a German girl to re-live her grandmother’s engagement to a soldier in the trenches at Verdun. Here, intergenerational memory becomes part of a twin tale when the First World War story is integrated into another national and international historical narrative, that of German participation in the War in Afghanistan. Both narratives use a trans-generational bond to explore staples of First World War YA literature such as young love, social equality, gender roles, loss of innocence and an insight into the true nature of the war, whilst simultaneously engaging contemporary teenage concerns and facilitating acts of self-discovery in the 20th -/21st-century protagonists. Such constructions of post-memory undoubtedly allow their recipients to connect intimately with the traumatic histories of 1914-1918, but do they succeed in “reanimating their dead subjects” (Marianne Hirsch) without appropriating them?

The importance of the paratexts in the transnational reception of children’s war literature

Valeria Illuminati, University of Bologna

In contemporary Italian children’s literary production, First World War is becoming more and more present, as the recent publication of translations of books dealing with the subject demonstrates. By analyzing translations into Italian produced in the last ten years of works by authors such as Micheal Morpurgo (War Horse; Private Peaceful/La guerra del soldato Pace), John Boyne (Stay Where You Are and Then Leave/Resta dove sei e poi vai) and Paul Dowswell (Eleven Eleven/L’ultima alba di guerra), the study will investigate their reception in the Italian context. In particular, it will first focus on the presence of culture-bond elements as opposed to the presence of more universal themes and values characterizing this kind of stories (friendship, brotherhood, solidarity, the horror of war, etc.) and how these are dealt with in translation, and transferred: which unfamiliar elements are presented in translation and how are they presented? How are they dealt with by translators and publishers? How do they affect the reception? Which ‘universal’ values are conveyed, and what is their role in the crossing of linguistic and cultural borders? Focusing specifically on the transnational reception, the study will then examine paratexts and the role they play in the reception process. Once again attention will focus on those elements emphasised by all involved in a translation – translators, editors, publishers – in order to make the transcultural communication and the intercultural transfer possible: how do paratexts help the positive reception of the texts? Which themes and elements are presented in the paratexts, and how are they presented? How do the features underlined in these spaces affect reception? The analysis of the culture-bond elements and the ‘universal’ themes presented will thus show the importance of the paratexts in the transnational reception.

No Man’s Land and the Other: Britishness, Brotherhood and Historical Picturebooks about the Truce in the Trenches on Christmas Day 2014

Patricia Kennon, English Department, Froebel College, National University of Ireland Maynooth

The temporary truce between British and German soldiers across the trenches on Christmas Day 2014 has generally been hailed over the last century as an inspiring example of how personal and national differences may be overcome and a common sense of ‘humanity’ celebrated even in the midst of intense emnity, pain and conflict.  This paper will explore how concepts of national identity, violence, peace, brotherhood and the Other are represented and negotiated in the following five fiction and non-fiction historical picturebooks which are based during this noteworthy event: War Game (1993, Michael Foreman), The Best Christmas Present in the World (2004, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman), Christmas in the Trenches (2006, John McCutcheon and Henri Sorensen), Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting (2006, Jim Murphy) and And The Soldiers Sang (2011, J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley).

Children’s literature can operate as a powerful medium for inculcating certain ways of knowing and constructing notions of empathy, citizenship education, ‘them’ and ‘us’. Multimodal texts such as picturebooks can be particularly powerful platforms for both conditioning children’s understanding of and affinity with the ‘imagined communities’ of different nations and also for encouraging children to question these very ideological systems. I will examine how these picturebooks cultivate particular political allegiances or ‘sides’ and their respective potential for scaffolding young audience’s critical and reflective thinking about norms, power, identity and belonging. Despite the texts’ often poignant and pacifistic tone and their various levels of apparently inclusive and equitable rhetoric around the importance of intercultural dialogue and mutual respect, I argue that ultimately they reinforce and perpetuate conservative assumptions about the ‘natural’ superiority and associated moral heroism of British manhood, values, character and culture.


In the ‘No-man’s land’ of crossover fiction: Louisa Young’s My Dear, I wanted to tell you

Yasmin Lehmann, Leuphana University Lüneburg

‘Crossover fiction’ – the grey zone between Children’s literature, Young Adult fiction and adult literature – arguably lends itself perfectly to the contemporary craze about the First World War in all areas of British fiction. A recent example of this phenomenon would be Louisa Young’s novel My Dear, I wanted to tell you (2011), a fictional treatment of the First World War from the perspective of two young adult couples, which has gained much critical acclaim and commercial success of late. Within Young’s oeuvre, including both adult and children’s fiction, the novel poses as a historical ‘crossover’ text. Beside the ‘adult’ thematic of war and some explicit descriptions of warfare and sexuality, Louisa Young also employs many features of YA fiction: the trenches seen from a teenage perspective; themes of transgression, romance, coming-of-age, sexual awakening and overall the quest for adolescent independence from the ‘ancien régime’. How do these reoccurring tropes of, for instance, ‘the body’ and ‘loss of innocence’, often found within the mythical catalogue of twentieth century First World War fiction, correlate with more generic tropes of Young Adult literature? And where can we place the novel within the context of ‘crossover’ culture to be consumed by adults through the eyes of adolescents? By contrast, the novel’s German translation has been defined and marketed as ‘adult fiction’ in Germany. Such a discrepancy between an intended British or German readership, further emphasized in form of the respective cover art designs, also leads us to the question if and how Young’s fiction could function as a ‘crossover’ text on a transnational level.

“The City Surprised”: Dublin and the First World War in Irish Children’s Literature

Rebecca Long, TCD

Irish authors tend to use Irish history – and primarily the Easter Rising – as an access point into the wider narrative of European history and the landscape of First World War. This paper will examine two key texts in the Irish children’s literature canon which place child protagonists at the centre of key historical events even as they themselves are entering the liminal, transitory space between childhood and adulthood. In moments of national crisis, what does it mean to be a child? What meaning does childhood itself have or hold in such moments? In Gerard Whelan’s The Guns of Easter (1996), a young boy’s quest for identity and agency becomes a symbol of a nation’s struggle for independence while in Siobhan Parkinson’s No Peace for Amelia (1994), a young girl’s movement into adulthood is set against the instability and chaos of a country and a continent at war.

As a backdrop for the depiction of the conflict in Dublin, World War I exerts an undeniable influence over both narratives and it is this influence that this paper will explore. Dublin in the moment of the Rising becomes a microcosm of the wartime landscape of Europe. In this time of societal and global instability, both protagonists experience a fragmentation or at the very least a questioning of their identity in the face of conflict. The fragility of the growing child body and the vulnerability of the fighting soldier become symbols of the destructive power of war, in both the domestic and the national context.

This paper will explore the degree to which childhood itself and the coming of age process can be used as mediums through which to engage with the transitory and revolutionary nature of both Irish and European history.

Reappraising the First World War? An analysis of Lia Levi’s Cecilia va alla guerra (2000)

Lindsay Myers (NUIG)

The First World War was, in many ways, a war of the young (Collins, 2011), and in Italy, as in so many other participant countries (Paris, 2004; Gibelli, 2005; Harris, 2008), children’s literature played a major role in the mobilization of the masses. Between 1914 and 1918 children’s novels about the war appeared in great numbers, and the fascination of Italian children’s authors with the conflict continued well into the fascist period. Since 1945, however, the Great War has almost completely disappeared from Italian children’s fiction. While in other European countries the events of the war have been largely revisited from within the so-called ‘post-memory’ period, in Italy this has not happened. With the exception of Lia Levi’s Cecilia va alla guerra (2000) and Marco Tomatis’ Lorenzo e la Grande Guerra (2008) there have been no recent Italian fictional works for children that revist the war. By investigating the ways in which the Great War is treated and portrayed in Lia Levi’s novel Cecilia va alla guerra (a work which was comissioned as part of the school-book companion series’ Storie d’Italia’), this paper aims to explore the reasons behind this phenomenon, as well as to consider the extent to which Levi’s novel both engages with and reacts to the literary tradition in which it is situated.

Teaching teenage war narratives inside and outside the classroom

Andrew Niemeijer, VU University Amsterdam

In my Ph.D. thesis “Bards and Bloggers of War: Tradition and Evolution in War Narratives (1914-2014),” I seek to understand how changing perceptions of war as well as changes in war narratives can be used in the classroom to teach pupils about war. Beginning with the canonical English poets of the First World War, I also study how new media (viewing films and using apps), field trips and literary tourism, and meetings with authors can help stimulate new understandings about war in pupils.

In this paper I will compare and contrast how two prose narratives – Anne Frank’s The Diary of A Young Girl (1947) and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (1982) – have been remediated in the 21st century, and how these narratives can now be experienced as plays, musicals, and films (and in the case of Anne Frank’s as a museum visit and as a walking tour through Amsterdam). Each of these media entails a new set of possibilities to connect and reflect on war and adolescence. Yet these multiple new forms also create new problems for teachers who want to encourage literacy and reading practices. This paper will address the challenges of teachers and professors to keep up with new developments, and to teach about war inside and outside the classroom.

Once upon a War-time: French Children’s Books about WWI

Caroline Perret, University of Westminster

The new century has seen the publication in France of a large number of publications for young readers about WWI. This reflects a psychological trend in children’s development theories to facilitate communication across generations on an increasingly wide range of subjects. Some historical publications relate the conflict with the support of para-textual material, showing the consequences of war and the reality on the ground with an emphasis on daily life in the trenches, patrols, bombardments, and the wounded. Other non-fiction books take everyday life as the sole focus with case studies such as soldiers on the front or on leave, war god-mothers, medical staff, or children behind the lines. The most difficult task inherent in such a project, as in all didactic ventures, is one of communicating adequately to the right age group, particularly when gruesome events and documents are concerned. Other books are testimonies by children themselves in the form of diaries and correspondence with their fathers at the front, sometimes with the additional visual support of drawings depicting the dramatic changes in everyday life, or humorous cartoons. These tell a personal story with an additional aura of authenticity for readers. In fiction, different narrative strategies are employed in texts for different ages. In some novels, for instance, the authors take the personae of children experiencing the war years, or bring non-fictional characters into the story. This strategy however raises the question of the blurring of boundaries between historical facts/situations and tale, and the possibility of conveying a distorted view of history. This possible failing has sometimes been addressed by adding historical dossiers and a chronology of events.

The following texts will be considered, among others, with ample illustrations and excerpts: Simon Adams’s La Première Guerre Mondiale (Paris: Gallimard, 2002), Isabelle Bournier’s Des Hommes dans la Grande Guerre (Brussels: Casterman, 2008), Jean-Pierre Guéno and Jérôme Pecnard’s Mon Papa en Guerre: Lettres de Pères et Mots d’Enfants, 1914-1918 (Paris: Arènes, 2003), Gilles Bonotaux and Hélène Lasserre’s Quand ils avaient mon âge… les étendards sanglants se levaient (Paris: Autrement, 2004), Patrick Bousquet’s Bleu, les Années Feu (Woippy: Serpenoise, 2002).

The Changing Face of the Enemy: The First World War in Contemporary Italian Children’s Fiction

Laura Rorato, Bangor University

Children’s fiction in Italy developed during the second half of the 19th century and was heavily influenced by the rhetoric of the Risorgimento (1815-1870), the movement which led to the unification of Italy. The early production, therefore, was characterized by frequent references to the need to fight and to be good soldiers in order to defend the newly created nation. Besides, according to Gibelli (2005), at the beginning of the 20th century capturing the consensus of children became an important tool in nationalist politics. Consequently, since Italy’s neutrality at the start of World War I was highly controversial, children’s books and magazines (e.g. Il corriere dei piccoli) were used to promote Italy’s entry into war. Children’s fiction and propaganda literature focussed on depicting the enemy as extremely cruel but also stupid and inevitably defeated by the shrewdness of the Italian soldiers. Children were not spared the gory details of death and violence as this was part of that process of militarization of children that culminated during the Fascism.

This paper intends to investigate the representation of World War I in a selection of 21st century Italian books for children including Marco Tomatis’ Lorenzo e la Grande Guerra, Lia Levi’s Cecilia va alla guerra (2007) and the short story ‘Il cervo’ by Paola Zanonner (2006). As stated by Fochesato (2011), although today children and adults alike are constantly exposed to the spectacle of war, a real awareness of the horrors and devastation caused by war can only be developed through narration. This is why it is extremely important to keep telling children the stories of the major conflicts that shaped our world. Despite engaging with some of the traditional themes of the literature produced during the First World War such as those of courage, the child who joins the war, the spy, love, wounds, etc. the aforementioned texts subvert the traditional image of the hero and of the enemy by encouraging young readers to focus on solidarity and those human feelings that cannot be confined to the battlefield.

Women at the Front and Class Enemies Reconciled: Anachronism in First World War Children’s Novels in the Last Four Decades”

Jane Rosen, Imperial War Museum

How many women reached the Front Line in the First World War?  How many friendships across the classes began in the conflict, lasted into peacetime and ended in marriage?  Did all the action of the war take place in the trenches of the Western Front?  Was everyone a poet and were conscientious objectors treated with understanding and compassion?

This paper will examine the contention that recent children’s books have described the events of the 1914-1918 from a modern day perspective, detailing events and characters that were highly unlikely to have existed at the time, and certainly not as a matter of course, thus making the unusual and rare the norm.   To do this it will assess several works by writers including Marcus Sedgwick, Theresa Breslin, Linda Newbery. Michael Morpurgo and others.

It will attempt to analyse the possible reasons for these anachronistic elements.  In doing so it will look at some of the subjects covered in the children’s literature published at the time of the war and will examine the concerns set out in these works.  It will evaluate the differences between the books produced at the time and the later attempts to write about the horrors of the First World War from the perspective of the sensibilities of the twenty-first century.

It will consider whether this concentration on the ethics prevalent in our society and time reflect the current attitude of present day writers to the war or their attitude to the children who read the books, or indeed the publisher’s attitude to adults who, after all, are likely to be the ones who buy the books.

Authority, Interpretation and the Implied Reader in Private Peaceful

Marie Stern-Peltz, Newcastle University

Michael Morpurgo’s 2003 novel Private Peaceful is the story of two brothers, Charlie and Tommo Peaceful, told on the eve of Charlie’s execution for disobeying orders. Narrated by Tommo, the novel describes the brothers’ childhood, growing up together in the countryside, and their eventual involvement in the First World War, up to the act of defiance which ends with Charlie sentenced to death. Charlie is the novel’s moral centre: standing up to authority, whether in the form of an authoritarian teacher, the owner of the land which the Peaceful reside on, or ‘pointless’ army discipline, Charlie performs the possibility of standing up for one’s self, even as a child. He is positioned as an example of the innate sense of justice and rightness which children and young people possess in the novel.

Esther McCallum-Stewart has argued that the problem with Private Peaceful is it lack of complexity: “[n]o nuance of debate is allowed by the representations of the Peaceful family as decent middle class types with a tolerance for the working classes, disenfranchised women and the mentally disabled.” Drawing on her argument, in this paper, I argue that Private Peaceful overtly endorses a model of childhood which allows children autonomy and encourages them to stand up to authority; however, stylistically, it is itself authoritarian. Using John Stephen’s theories of language and ideology and Kim Reynolds’ notion of radical children’s literature, I will argue that the implied reader in Private Peaceful compels the reader into agreement with the novel’s ideology, closing down any interpretative freedom or space for play in the text.

No Choice for Children in Flanders Fields?

Jan van Coillie, KU Leuven

Can a young reader enter a world full of war horror, even if it is only narrated? And: How much horror a children’s book can suffer? Vloeberghs (2008) wonders. These two questions are at the basis of the present paper.

First I will provide a brief overview of the children’s books on the subject of the First World War which have been published in Flanders since 1970. More in particular I want to examine how the Great War has been represented, focusing on the representation of violence and horror, moral values and images of national identity that are ‘bound up with the stories we tell ourselves about our past’ (Fox, 1999: 128).

Then I will discuss the work of the Flemish author and journalist Geert Spillebeen, presenting a more detailed analysis of the literary means he uses in order to pass on his ‘message’, especially the manipulation of point of view, time and space. How he deals with the tension between ‘distant’ and ‘involved’ knowledge (Van Coillie, 2007: 191).

Finally I will present the results of a small-scale reception study, involving some 60 thirteen year olds. Using a survey, I studied the impact of the informative, moral and emotional layers in Spillebeen’s Kipling’s Choice, also testing the participants’ attitude towards the representation of horror and violence in the book.

Translating the absent history.

Sandrijn van den Noortgate, University of Antwerp

Numerous books have been written about World War I and this certainly also goes for children’s literature. However, perspectives as intended by the respective authors or as perceived by the respective readership vary according to the different World War I histories of the readership’s native countries.

Translating children’s literature on World War I is justified already by that cross-cultural perspective alone. For example, a book like Paul Kustermans’ Oorlogsjaren shows World War I through the eyes of Alexander, boy from Flanders, and his sister. They witness several aspects of the war such as the Louvain massacre and life in the trenches, both as bystanders and as active participants. This paper looks into translation strategies as solutions to problems posed in translating such a cultural history.

If the translator chooses to use a target-audience oriented approach, the main question when translating a text like this for a new readership, here an American one, is how to transpose the frictions of a bilingual society for an audience that lives in a largely monolingual reality. Moreover, assuming that an American target readership of 12-year-olds does not share the finer nuances of the Flemish war history with its peers brings about several other difficulties as well. The most enigmatic problem concerns the lexicultural elements.

Lexicultural elements refer to realia that are very specific to one culture in a particular time period. In this case: place names and some terminology. In order to provide background information for the intended target audience, the translation technique of explicitation is used and both its definition and application stretched so that it could include another translation technique as well, addition.

This converged translation strategy can be considered as explicitation taken to the extreme, perhaps more suited to the circumstances of the topic and the story itself and leading to the addition of cultural information about Belgium.

The past is a foreign country… Some challenges in writing historical fiction for today’s young adults.

Sheena Wilkinson, Writer in Residence, Church of Ireland College of Education, Dublin.

In writing about a World War One teenager’s decision to abandon her hopes of higher education because she is expected to care for her brother, invalided out of the army, what challenges does a modern writer face?

My background is in writing contemporary young adult fiction, but I have also published several short stories for adults with a WW1 theme. When invited to contribute to Walker Book’s forthcoming collection The Great War: an Anthology of Stories Inspired by Objects from the First World War (publication date 5/6/14) I relished the chance to combine these areas of interest. My story, ‘Each Slow Dusk’, is inspired by a collection of 1914-19 grammar school magazines. I fictionalised details of the school’s war effort, foregrounding the experience (often overlooked in war literature) of a schoolgirl, sixteen-year-old Edith. The story raises several questions of interest to this conference, not least because I offer a writer’s perspective rather than a strictly critical one.

Unlike the intended YA/crossover readership, who are likely to have a prolonged period of young adulthood, the teenage characters in ‘Each Slow Dusk’ are children at school one minute and adults the next – not only leading men into battle, but, in Edith’s case, taking an adult caring role. Notions of duty are much more pronounced than they would be today, and Edith seems both older and younger than a modern sixteen year old.  I faced the challenge of making her voice and story accessible to a modern teen reader without compromising the sensibilities of the 1917 narrator.

This paper outlines some of the editorial decisions which I made to produce a lively, modern teen read which respects its 1917 source material.