Tuesday, 1 December 2015


Today's post is by Hilary Robinson who, together with historical artist and illustrator Martin Impey, created a unique trio of titles for younger readers. Hilary explains how her series of picture books set during World War 1 are not only written to help children engage with remembrance, and peace but to encourage empathy and understanding.

Children could easily be influenced by the negative and distressing news coverage which focus so much on what divides our diverse communities rather than on the values we share.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 showed that although the soldiers might speak a different language, might live in a different part of the world and might be fighting against their will, in reality, they would much rather heed the appeal of the then Pope who asked that “the guns might fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” They did. The High Command chose to ignore it – but the German soldiers, freezing in their trenches, started singing “Stille Nacht” and, before long, soldiers on both sides put down their arms and offered hands in friendship.

The Christmas Truce followed on from ‘Where The Poppies Now Grow’, a story of the strength of friendship amidst the trauma of warfare. 

In the latest book in the series, ’Flo Of The Somme’, we have not only paid homage to the vital role of birds and animals during the First World War, but the text has also provided a canvas to help broaden children’s understanding that minority groups too played their vital role.

 Over 130,000 Sikh troops fought in Belgium and France during the First World War and more than one quarter of those soldiers died. Illustrator Martin Impey recently said:

"by including Sikh soldiers in some of the illustrations I was keen to highlight the contribution their community made to the war effort, encouraging children to be aware of the sacrifices that they and so many others from faraway lands made in WW1."

Our shared history, brought together by so many circumstances is part of our national identity today and while the media plays its part in highlighting what are often troubling world events, empathy, compassion and understanding can be encouraged by the arts. 

As authors and illustrators, and through our medium of picture books, poetry and prose, we are in a privileged position to make a difference by countering the terror and highlighting the common humanity.

Hilary Robinson

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

I think that Martin's careful historical research really shows in these illustrations too!