Archie's War by Marcia Williams
|Archie's War by Marcia Williams|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Throughout the First World War Archie kept a scrapbook and all the family mementoes went in there. It's a wonderful retelling of the war in all its horror and glory and comes highly recommended by The Bookbag.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 48||Date: November 2007|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
Some times - not very often - you come across a real gem of a book, something so perfect that it takes your breath away. Marcia Williams has achieved just that with Archie's War. I've seen books before that try to look as though they're a contemporaneous scrapbook recording a particular event. Somehow they never quite pull it off, but this one does.
The book is subtitled My Scrapbook of the First World War and it's the scrapbook that Archie began when he was ten years old in 1914. There are all the usual instructions that no one else is to look at it on pain of being mauled by the family dog and an instruction, apparently from the king, as it's written in blue blood, that Archie and his friend Tom should be awarded a comic a week for life.
Archie and his family live in East London, in the house his father was born in. As well as his mother and father there's his sister, Ethel - sixteen years old and a suffragette - older brother Ronald and baby Billy who's only nine months old. It's an extended family which would have been common at the time, with Grandma and Uncle Teddy living there too. When there isn't enough work at the boot factory Dad buys and sells scrap. He keeps his barrow out at the back, next to the toilet - you can open the door and see what's inside if you like!
The first talk of war came around about the time of Billy's first birthday. The family is split about whether or not the country should join the war in Europe. Ethel believes that it's wrong, but Grandma thinks that Great Britain should be there and fighting. By August the country has declared war and there are people who are openly regretting that their sons are too young to fight, but Archie and his friends are enjoying the school holidays - playing war games and making up their own comic about the war. There's a copy in the scrapbook for you to open up and read.
Archie's life slowly changes as Uncle Teddy joins up and is sent to France. It's quite a while before the family receives a letter from him, but it's there in the scrapbook - stained with some bully beef from the trenches. Teddy drew a diagram of what the trenches were like for Archie, but it's small points like the fact that the soldiers all share their letters as it cheers them up that bring home the loneliness and isolation.
Teddy's letter about Christmas Eve 1914 reduced me to tears as he tells of the truce between the two sides and how they sang carols and played football together. I've heard the story many times, but the letter seemed so poignant.
Archie chronicles the progress of the war both at home and abroad. It's all historically sound but told in such a way that it's impossible not to empathise with the family as Teddy is killed and Dad goes off to fight. Postcards from Dad come into the scrapbook, but five men from Grove Road have been killed and three of them had children. The war no longer seems quite as glorious particularly as food is in short supply and money is tight. Dad writes to Archie's elder brother and tells him that he has to look after his Mum and keep clear of recruiting officers. Archie is taken by the story of the life - and death - of Nurse Edith Cavell, which he retells in the scrapbook.
It's history told in such a user-friendly way that you'd swear it was just for fun. It's war told in as balanced a fashion as war can be told - not just the heroics of 'our' soldiers, but the privations at home. Horse racing, county cricket and league football were all stopped, the feeding of stray dogs was banned and it cost £6 million a day to keep the war going. There's an envelope from Dad, which you can open up and pull the letter out. It's 1917 and the man who was angry with his daughter about her opposition to the war now says that he'd join her on a peace march.
The futility of the war came home most strongly to me when Archie wrote of the Red Baron, acknowledging his heroism and saying that he doubted he wanted to fight any more than his father wanted to.
This is primarily a book for children but I read it with interest and appreciation. It's a child recording something for his own enjoyment - and Marcia Williams captures the voice perfectly. I often forgot that this wasn't written nearly a hundred years ago as I examined Archie's doodles or peeped into letters and postcards from the men serving abroad, so good is the reproduction. The book is a sheer delight. It's only 48 pages, but I've read full-length books which had much less to offer.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to read and review it. We also have a review of Les Miserables by Marcia Williams.
Children interested in war will also enjoy Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. If adults would like the story of some more famous Christmas carols we can recommend Carols from King's: The Stories of our Favourite Carols from King's College by Alexandra Coghlan.
You can read more book reviews or buy Archie's War by Marcia Williams at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Archie's War by Marcia Williams at Amazon.com.
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