As a storyteller I spend a lot of time trying to draw people into someone else’s world. Last year I co-wrote a book with a class of ten year olds called “Mabel and her Amazing Fleas” (you can buy a copy here.)
It was all about the great war. But is it really possible for the mind of a modern tween to time travel into the rigid jingoistic mindset of a typical Edwardian?
So we spent a long time talking before we started writing.
For example, in a previous RE project the class had been focussing on the value of peace.
Obviously this must be the underlying ethos of any project about war, including ours. However we felt that the subject could not be dealt with thoroughly unless we trusted the children to think the arguments through properly. We wanted them to understand the many reasons that people supported the terrible war and went off quite willingly- even eagerly.
We chose a selection of WW1 recruitment posters, each one taking a different argument. (you can see some good ones here if you want some inspiration.)
Some of the posters talked about duty to king and country. Others stressed the threat of invading armies, some showed pictures of bombed English women and children. Some showed men experiencing exotic travel and adventures. Others said “all your friends have gone, why not you?”Some showed women handing out white feathers and shouting “coward” to non recruits!
We asked the children to stand at the back of the hall in a row.
As each poster came on the screen, we explained and discussed its meaning.
Then we asked everyone to take one step forward if they felt persuaded.
By the time we’d got to the end of the poster selection, many children were right at the front of the hall, most were quite far forward and two or three were still resolutely standing at the back, utterly unpersuaded.
Interestingly we noticed that those at the front had begun to shout at those who stayed behind, saying things like “you’re cowards!” This was obviously intended to be playful but we found it striking how easy it was for the children to fall into these roles. In fact discussions got heated quite quickly.
We asked the children to justify their positions verbally and followed up immediately by asking them to choose a “for” or “against” position and write their argument down. They wrote eloquently and we have used some of their writing in the book.
Later on we talked about leaving home and going to the battlefield- here’s some of their writing. (Our illustrator is the fab Russell Olson.- he used traditional watercolours rather than photoshop to get a lovely old-fashioned feel.)
Find out more about the book here: http://mabel-and-her-amazing-fleas.blogspot.co.uk