CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 9. . . .October 30, 2009.
Trenches. (Horrible History Handbooks).
Terry Deary. Illustrated by Martin Brown.
Toronto. ON: Scholastic Canada, 2009.
96 pp., pbk., $7.99.
World War, 1914-1918-Trench warfare-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1914-1918-Campaigns-Western front-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.
Don’t think that the War is all misery. Troops like to have fun even under fire. They have their own jokes, songs, games and poems to keep them cheerful.
In 1917, as Sergeant Ernest Parker is sitting reading at the entrance to his dugout in the banks of the Yser Canal, he sees and exciting water sport. He reports “A ruffian-looking member of my band was using two oars to row a rectangular box up and down the canal, He put down the oars and picked up a shovel. When a rival craft was launched, a naval battle began, cheered by the spectators, who were hoping that someone would take a plunge into the black slime of the canal.”
Trenches builds upon the “Horrible History” Frightful First World War, going more in depth about life in the trenches. Trenches is a “Horrible Histories Handbook,” with all of the illustrations in colour. As with the “Horrible Histories,” the “Handbooks” also take a humorous look at history “with the nasty bits left in” in order to encourage children to become more interested in history.
Trenches takes a small departure from most “Horrible Histories” in that it focuses equally on the British and German trenches, rather than primarily focussing on the British trenches. This enables Trenches to cover more information and provide a more balanced view of life in the trenches of World War I.
The “Horrible Histories” handbooks are intended to be recreational reading and only provide an overview of the topic being covered. While the information presented is factual, it is presented in very small snippets. In addition, Trenches moves quickly from one topic to another. This will help keep more reluctant readers interested and also allows Terry Deary to cover a greater variety of information.
Reader interest will be further increased by the type of information presented in Trenches. While Deary does cover a few basic dates, Trenches looks principally at the “nasty bits” of trench warfare and life in the trenches, as well as other interesting information. This includes weapons, food, pests, entertainment, and, of course, toilets.
The writing style will help to attract a wide range of readers. Information is presented in a variety of ways, including cartoons, correspondence, and quizzes. The illustrations add a lot to the books, allowing information to be easily understood by a range of age levels while keeping the humorous tone to the book. This is especially important for a topic like the trenches in World War I. There is an index at the end, which contains the usual “Horrible Histories” mix of the serious and the amusing, with entries ranging from barbed wire to rules, ridiculous.
Overall, Trenches provides a brief but humorous and informative look at trench life and warfare during World War I.
Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver, BC.
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