Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Imagination Reveals the Reality of the Great War

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Imagination Reveals the Reality of the Great War

Article excerpt

Stories help take children to the front, says War Horse author

Teachers should use works of fiction and first-hand accounts to teach children about the reality of the First World War because they can "reach places" that history books can't, according to a leading children's author.

Michael Morpurgo, the writer of War Horse, an acclaimed account of trench warfare, said that stories helped to engage children by encouraging them to "feel the reality" of conflict.

Speaking at a conference organised by English private school Wellington College on how teachers should prepare for the centenary of the First World War, Mr Morpurgo (inset, right) said that books, plays and films that were grounded in historical reality were the best to reach children.

He referred to his own book The Best Christmas Present in the World, which tells the story of the 1914 Christmas truce when British and German soldiers suspended fighting and held football matches and exchanged gifts in no-man's-land.

Mr Morpurgo said that events of the time were documented by the soldiers themselves in letters home. "So that story [his novel] came from a document and I hope with fiction I can touch hearts and reach places which history might not be able to reach with many, many children out there who love a story."

He added: "I found as a teacher the best way I could draw the attention of an audience of children was to start with a story which mattered to me...I wasn't trying to push something on them, I wasn't trying to persuade them of something, it was simply me inside the story."

Mr Morpurgo's comments follow fierce debate over the best way to mark the centenary, with England's education secretary Michael Gove earlier this year lambasting "left-wing" academics and the television series Blackadder for depicting the Great War as a "misbegotten shambles".

But despite Mr Gove's views, Andrew Murrison, the Conservative minister for international security strategy and the prime minister's special representative for the commemoration of the War, heaped praise on the series.

"I'm going to let you into a secret, I'm Blackadder's greatest fan," he told the Wellington conference. "I've got the box set, all six DVDs, and I can quote extensively from them. …

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