What continues to surprise me about children’s literature is the brilliant strides authors and publishers are taking to make traditionally gendered narratives accessible and enjoyable for everyone. War stories didn’t feature in my childhood favourites, between Milly Molly Mandy and Josie Smith, I think the closest I got to female accounts of war were tales of nit-riddled evacuees. But in light of the centenary and remembrance, I was intrigued to see how far both fictional and non-fictional narratives around women and minorities in the war had come.
In the UK, there’s a memorial to the horses and animals lost in WW1. It’s glorious: bronze and statuesque. And that’s just the one in Hyde Park. The memorial for soldiers from the colonies (note: colonies as a collective not as distinguished nations) is represented by unadorned stone pillars. And the memorial for the women lost on the front line as they served as nurses and ambulance drivers? Well, we’re still waiting. Although I was filled with immense pride on Sunday as I watched a diverse mix of representatives place a wreath at the Cenotaph, the real-life accounts and narratives televised and reported were still decidedly white. And male.
So War Girls - a collection of short stories from some of our nation's favourite children’s authors - came as a bit of remedy, to better understand the experiences of women in the war. To learn about their unwavering bravery as they followed their male counterparts to the frontline. To learn about what it meant to be a woman left behind. To learn about women who weren’t part of the allied forces. Sharing these narratives alongside more expected accounts is important, not only for historical prosperity, but to honour those whose who have been marginalised. War isn’t a boys game anymore, and books like War Girls set out to change those stereotypes with compelling writing and brilliant female characters, that makes it a topic all can children engage with.
War Girls. Collected stories from by Adèle Geras, Melvin Burgess, Berlie Doherty, Mary Hooper, Anne Fine, Matt Whyman, Theresa Breslin, Sally Nicholls and Rowena House.