Thursday, July 9, 2015

Jennifer Bohnhoff: A Short History of Barbed Wire, and Readings on WWI for Middle Grade Readers

One hundred years ago, Europe was embroiled in what they thought was the war to end all wars.

Barbed Wire Stakes National WWI Museum, Kansas City
Unfortunately, they were wrong.  Within a generation the entire world was again at war, in a conflagration that would kill far more than the First World War had.

One of the enduring symbols of World War I is barbed wire strung in No Man's Land.

 Invented in Ohio in 1867 to Lucien B. Smith, the use of barbed wire to keep livestock in had become ubiquitous world-wide by the turn of the 20th century.  In 1914, French troops took some barbed wire from a local farm to improvise a barrier against the Germans.  Soon, both sides were laying down miles of wire between the lines.  Most of the wire was laid down at night, when the danger of being seen was smaller.  But the sound of driving in stakes with hammers could attract the attention of snipers.  To avoid the noise, both sides developed stakes that could be silently screwed into the ground.

Almost nothing could get through barbed wire.  Artillery barrages designed to destroy it only served to make it into a bigger muddle, even more difficult to get through.  The war ground to a stalemate, both sides literally entrenched in their muddy defenses.  It wasn't until 1918, with the development of a tank big enough to roll over it, that mobility returned to the war.

If this brief history of barbed wire has whetted your interest, here are some titles that you might want to investigate:

A TIME FOR COURAGE: THE DIARY OF KATHLEEN BOWEN, by Kathryn Lasky. Thirteen-year-old Kathleen Bowen keeps a diary of what her life was like in Washington, D.C. in 1917. An historical note helps readers understand the struggle for women's suffrage, and the war in Europe.

PRIVATE PEACEFUL, by Michael Morpurgo, To prove himself to his country, his family, and his childhood love, Molly, fourteen-year-old Thomas Peaceful signs up to joins the British Army when his older brother is forced into service.

Also by Morpurgo: WAR HORSE, which has been made into a movie and a stage play.

REMEMBRANCE by Theresa Breslin follows the destinies of two Scottish families, one middle and one upper class through the events of World War I.

THE NIGHT THE BELLS RANG by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock focuses on the last year of World War I for a Vermont farm boy named Mason, who owes a thank you to a dead bully-turned-soldier.

Jennifer Bohnhoff is a 7th grade Social Studies Teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She has written three historical novels for middle grade readers.
You can learn more about her books here.

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