Monday, March 31, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: World War I for kids: A history with 21 activities by R. Kent Rasmussen

Every year the dreaded World War I project strikes. Random middle school students suddenly appear demanding 20 facts about a single topic. The smart ones have weeks, the procrastinators need them, like, now and are usually rather surly when I tell them that their fellow students have already checked out my entire World War I section and anyways I don't have an entire book on the Zimmerman telegram, trench warfare, or carrier pigeons. However, in view of the demand, I've been slowly building this section. Slowly because, however heavy the demand, it's still only once a year and therefore I want items that are attractive enough to check out all year round.

Which is a lengthy way of saying that Chicago Review Press has met my requirements with this book on an obscure topic, packed with information and activities (yes, you may not consider WWI obscure, but trust me, the kids do).

The bulk of the book is an overview of the war, beginning with an explanation of the treaties and events leading up to the war, the various fronts and what life was like in the trenches, a detailed overview of modern weapons developed and used in the war, naval and aerial combat, and the role of animals in the war. This is followed by a chapter dealing with the late entry into the war of the US, life on the home fronts, and the end of the war and its aftermath.

Suggested activities range from making a parachute or periscope (the instructions are wordy, but fairly easy to follow) to more academic assignments like creating a "scoreboard" of all the countries involved in the war or creating your own propaganda posters or slogans. Personally, I find most of the activities ranging from the mildly pointless to the monumentally boring and slightly weird. Kind of like making a scale-model of a concentration camp (yes, that's an actual project - I lent them my hot glue gun). However, teachers and homeschooling parents may find them useful if they're looking for extension activities. Additional information includes a detailed list of key personalities in the war, and annotated bibliographies of websites and films about the war. Notes, a glossary, bibliography, and index are also included.

This is an overview of the war, not an encyclopedic treatment, so while it briefly mentions the role of women, treatment of African-Americans and native populations in colonized countries, and movements such as women's suffrage and anti-war groups, it doesn't deal with these at length.

Verdict: This isn't a book the average middle grade reader is going to sit down with and read cover to cover, unless they're deeply interested in history and/or World War I. Although it's well-written and the author does an excellent job of explaining the complex events of the war, it's still pretty dense and text-heavy and the black and white photos and grayscale maps aren't very inviting. It is very well-organized however, and would make an excellent resource for students who need additional information on various aspects of the war, which is exactly what I need. It also makes good browsing reading - try booktalking the chapters on how weaponry changed or the involvement of animals in the war. If you have a need for similar overviews of the war, especially connecting the various events and covering, at least briefly, all aspects of the war, this is an excellent source and addition to your World War I resources.

ISBN: 9781613745564; Published April 2014 by Chicago Review Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library


Roberta said...


We're on the same wavelength today. Enjoyed your review.

Resh said...

I was going to say exactly what Roberta said :) Interesting book. I am also surprised to see "Activities" on this subject included, wouldn't have thought of extension ideas in the context of WW!