With all the media coverage of whether to drop bombs on Syria, I wondered what it feels like to be a child living in a place that is being bombed. Are there any books that describe it well?
Bombing of the kind that is being discussed at the moment is designed to harm ordinary citizens. As you suggest, that includes children who will be scared for themselves and their families and friends.
Even as far back as during the bombing of Britain during the second world war, children’s lives were shattered – by the London Blitz in particular, but also by the bombing of other strategic cities and areas of the UK.
Robert Westall spent his childhood on Tyneside during the second world war. He told stories from that time to his son Christopher and later came to draw on them for his first book The Machine Gunners, which won the Carnegie medal in 1975.
In it, Westall vividly describes Tyneside, or Garmouth as it is called in the story, which was heavily bombed. The impact of the nightly bombing on the children’s daily life was considerable and Westall captures well the background fear which pervaded their outwardly normal home and school life. But there was adventure too. When Chas McGill finds a crashed German bomber, he takes out one of the guns and sets it up so that he can see off the enemy himself! Writing with hindsight and at a time when less was thought about the psychological damage of war, Westall employs the technique of empowering Chas McGill as a way of helping him to take control and to overcome his fear. He also uses it as a way of making Chas and his friends think about what the war is really all about and whether it should be happening.
Two other great UK novels about the second world war, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, explore the experiences of children’s whose lives have been altered forever by bombing and the threat of it.
William Beech in Goodnight Mister Tom as well as Carrie and her younger brother Nick in Carrie’s War are sent to live in the country to escape the devastation of the Blitz. All three children are taken from their parents and face total displacement from everything they have known. For William especially, but even for Carrie and Nick, the new experiences are not all bad but in both books the life-changing nature of bombing civilians lies at the heart of the story and the anxiety of having lived through it is never far away.
For Anna in Judith Kerr’s Bombs Bombs on Aunt Dainty, the second title in her When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit sequence, living through the London Blitz as a teenager is full of terror. Kerr vividly describes the upheaval of the nights of the bombing and the fear that goes with it. For Anna there is the additional anxiety as her status as an “enemy alien” which would put her and her family at risk if the Germans managed to invade.
The impact of modern conflicts on children is brilliantly captured by Elizabeth Laird in Oranges in No Man’s Land. In a moving story of bravery and courage, ten year old Ayesha lives with her granny in Beirut, a bombed out city divided by civil war, following the death of her mother in a shell attack. The two sides of the war are kept strictly apart by the strip of No Man’s Land that runs between them. When her granny falls ill, Ayesha must bravely cross the strip that is home only to tanks and soldiers. Here, and in everything else she does, Ayesha’s whole life is shaped by growing up in a country dominated by war.
For older readers Joe Sacco’s graphic novel Palestine is the most powerful of all stories about living in a war zone. Through his illustrations he records the daily discomfort, displacement and fear of all those living in an occupied country anywhere.
Which books can you recommend on this theme? Tell us on Twitter @GdnChildrensBks or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add your ideas to this blog!