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Teaching Children About War: Mum's Not the Word

11/06/2014 12:09 BST | Updated 10/08/2014 10:59 BST

The 70th anniversity of D-Day the centenary of the First World War pinpoint 2014 as a year of wartime nostalgia. Amongst fabulous stories of rebel veterans absconding from their care homes to Normandy and colourful re-enactment celebrations, one of the quieter questions being bartered around is 'do kids really know what's going on?.' Although this question is doubtlessly directed at history lesson hoppers and surly social networkers, it's perhaps more important to think about the really little people. The under 10 war savvy squad, do they exist? They should.

It would be easy to only tell children technicolour tales of victory rather than the grim black, white and red reality of the Normandy landings and its historical counterparts. Obviously there's no call for horror stories by cot-sides, but loss and grief are ideas which are better broached honestly with children. No one would write 'bottling things up' as a skill on their CV or as an attribute on their dating profile, so why should we teach our young ones to do it?

This is something the children's picture book about the First World War, Where The Poppies Now Grow, achieves with down to earth storytelling. Established author Hilary Robinson and War Horse illustrator Martin Impey's collaboration explores the friendship of two young boys, Ben and Ray, who go to war together and return very different men. The book moves rather than sensationalises, but it is also honest rather than twee, and accessible to children as young as five years old. Personally, I learned about war too late and from a textbook, where instead of emotional involvement I was dealing with essay plans and exercise 3.a. Had I had the experience of reading Where The Poppies Now Grow and dedicating my own printed poppy in the final page of the book, learning to translate my historical goosebumps into paying real respect, I would probably have been hungrier for the finer details when I reached the classroom. What's more, a huge part of post-war culture is the vibrant body of literature and art which came in its wake; imaginative youngsters shouldn't be excluded from such a wonderful library.

Not a parent myself, I fall into that weird interim of remembering what it's like to be a child and being utterly scared by the idea of them. However, one thing I do remember is feeling capable of dealing with things from a younger age than adults assumed I could; just as I look at the cute little girl with curly hair and think 'aww', she probably sighs back, just as I did, feeling that she can handle the truth with Nicholson flair. All of us can look back and be surprised how young we were in certain memories, considering how complex our thoughts and emotions were in those moments. It's only once you're a grown up that you start to forget that little bodies can cope with bigger ideas. Not only is there no point in patronising kids with euphemisms for death and loss, it's misleading to an intelligent and growing mind.

Where The Poppies Now Grow is in no way a brash introduction to wartime brutality, quite the opposite, it is a simply a story which replaces rose-tints with honest storytelling and a rainbow spectrum of emotion. Similarly to Robinson's The Copper Tree, which sensitively deals with children experiencing grief through the loss of their teacher, Where The Poppies Now Grow doesn't shy away from the realities of war, but embraces them in a way which makes them digestible and fascinating. Young eyes may be small, but they're wide as anything.