Thursday, April 27, 2017

World War I

The United States entered World War I one hundred years ago on April 6, 1917. This so-called War to End All Wars began in Europe in July 1914 and did not end until November 11, 1918. Originally celebrated in the US as Armistice Day, November 11 is now Veterans Day.

Over the course of WWI over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died. The war introduced the wide-spread use of trench warfare, barbed wire, chemical weapons, submarines, tanks, and airplanes. It also continued the use of animals in combat.

For the first three years of the war, the United States maintained a “non-intervention” policy. President Woodrow Wilson advocated US neutrality for most of the war. Then the German Foreign Minister, Zimmermann, invited Mexico to join in the war against the US in exchange for Germany helping Mexico recover Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. After German submarines sank seven US merchant ships, coupled with the “Zimmermann Telegram” becoming public knowledge, Wilson changed his mind and asked Congress to declare war.

Numerous books are suitable for middle-grade readers to learn about the far reaching impact of this “Great War,” as it was sometimes known. Here are my recommendations:


DK Eyewitness Books: World War I, by Simon Adams, provides an in-depth look at the battles fought, the weapons used, and the lives lost. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, to life in the trenches, and Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, to the Treaty of Versailles, this profusely illustrated book highlights the highs and lows of the war. If this book had existed when I was a middle-grade student, it would have been a favorite.

World War I Heroes (Ten True Tales), by Allan Zullu, includes stories about brave heroes who risked their lives to serve their country during WWI. Corporal Alvin York won the Medal of Honor for leading an attack that killed 25 enemy soldiers and captured 132. Captured from his sinking ship by a U-boat, Navy Lieutenant Edouard Izak, was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading several fellow prisoners in an escape from a German POW camp. The soldiers of the 8th Illinois—all African Americans—overcame bitter racism and segregation to fight for their country.

The Story of World War I Coloring Book, by Gary Zaboly, begins with peaceful scenes of prosperity that were shattered by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and concludes with the signing of the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles. Thirty-five illustrations depict Gallipoli, Jutland, and other momentous battles; the introduction of gas, machine guns, and other new weaponry; Mata Hari, Lawrence of Arabia, and other famous figures; and a chronological view of historic events.

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4): A World War I Tale, by Nathan Hale, brings together several fascinating true-life tales from the war and presents them using his inimitable Hazardous Tales twist. This comic book format provides easy to understand, funny, and informative information about some of the well-known battles (and little-known secrets) of the war. School Library Journal describes it as: "A mixture of textbook and slapstick, this essential read makes history come alive in a way that is relevant to modern-day life and kids."


First World War Tanks, by E. Bartholomew, provides an illustrated history of the evolution of the tank which was originally created as a temporary solution to the deadlock created by trench warfare. The British Army at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 proved that tanks were effective. By the end of the war, Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Italy, and Russia were all using tanks. This book covers tank design and development and describes the most important battles in which they fought.

Airplanes of World War I Coloring Book, by Carlo Demand, is an innovative way to study the use of the airplane in the war. This book presents 43 remarkable aircraft for coloring, which includes the most famous fighters, bombers, reconnaissance, sea planes, and trainers of this early period in aeronautical development. The planes are rendered with captions describing each craft's design, history, and original color scheme. Among the planes are the Red Baron's Fokker Triplane, Rickenbacker's Nieuport, the Sopwith Camel, the German Albatros, and the American Curtis "Jenny."


Who Was Woodrow Wilson?, by Margaret Frith, presents the rise to fame of Woodrow Wilson. It includes his time as president of Princeton University, his service as governor of New Jersey, and his two terms as president of the United States. Wilson was not in favor of taking the US into war, but events dictated otherwise. He was ahead of his time in trying to create the League of Nations after World War I to help prevent other wars. He was devastated when the United States refused to join the league. It was not until the United Nations was created following WWII that the US agreed to join other nations in working for peaceful solutions through diplomacy.


War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo, is the story of Joey, a beautiful bay-red horse with a distinctive cross on his nose. In 1914, Joey is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, Joey charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. In the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer's son he left behind. Will he ever see his young master again? In 2011, Steven Spielberg turned the book into an acclaimed motion picture.

Soldier Dog, by Sam Angus, tells the story of fourteen-year-old Stanley who is determined to find his older brother who has gone to fight in the Great War. Stanley runs away from an abusive father to join an increasingly desperate army. He is assigned to the War Dog School and given a problematic Great Dane named Bones to train. Against all odds, the pair excels, and Stanley is sent to France. The war turns out to be larger and more brutal than Stanley imagined. How can one young boy survive World War I and find his brother with only a dog to help?

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, follows the story of Paul Baumer, who enlists with his youthful classmates in the German Army of World War I. They become enthusiastic soldiers, but despite what they have learned, they break into pieces during the first bombardment in the trenches. As the horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow to fight against the principles of hate that pits young men of the same generation, but different uniforms, against each other. First, he must come out of the war alive. This book is frequently named as “the greatest war novel of all time.” Although not written specifically for middle-grade students, the book is certainly understandable by them.

History unfortunately repeats itself. Perhaps if today’s students studied more thoroughly the ravages created by the great wars of our past, they can strive to create a better world when they take their place as adults.


  1. Your last sentence rings all too true, Robert. We start at the elementary school level and teachers who have an enthusiasm for their subject - and for the truth, as far as possible. I do like your selection of books. E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World. We gave a copy each to two of our grandchildren - one whose first language is not English - and this really fired their interest in history. I'd recommend this.


  2. Robert, Gremlins got to my computer and snafued my earlier comment - it should have read '. . .and with teachers...'
    'I thought of E.H. Gombrich's...'
    Sorry, E.