1914. Archie Albright lives with his family in London’s East End. He loves comics and is thrilled when he is given a scrapbook. Now he can create his own comic book.
A child’s scrapbook proves to be a brilliant format for getting across what life was like for ordinary people during the First World War. Archie collects whatever he can get his hands on: newspaper cuttings, cigarette cards of the period, picture post cards from the front, his Dad’s letters from the trenches, and his own diary and drawings. We see his family’s enthusiastic patriotism at the beginning (apart from his 16-year-old pacifist sister); his Uncle Ted joins up amid great enthusiasm; the innocent Schoenfeld family who ‘might be spies’ are ostracised. Gradually, the tone changes as Archie realizes that the war won’t be over by Christmas.
The news gets darker. War-time shortages begin to bite; then Uncle Ted is killed. Archie’s father joins up, and his 15-year-old brother, Ron, who feels ashamed when people shout ‘conchy’ and ‘coward’ at him. Sometimes, Archie’s scrapbook records local news: the explosion in the dangerous munitions factory where his mother works. Sometimes it has more general news, such as the story of Edith Cavell.
The arrival of the first Zeppelin brings a new threat. The Zeppelins are slow and not too dangerous but then come the first German bombers. Archie is excited by the exploits of the Red Baron, but horrified by what bombing actually does to people when the street behind them is bombed and his friend Tom is made homeless.
I give Marcia Williams top marks for the intelligent, funny, sad and thoughtful way she charts the First World War through the eyes of one ten-year-old boy. A triumph. Every children’s library should have a copy. For eight plus, particularly boys.