‘Flo and the Somme’ is another stunning book collaboration on the theme of World War One by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey I first came across their work last year during the Hampshire Illustrated Book Awards when ‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’ was nominated and was greatly enjoyed by the children at school. We then used ‘The Christmas Truce’ as the focal point for our topic in year 3 and 4 on the Christmas Eve truce. Both of these books were invaluable in helping give the children an insight into this war in a way they could relate to as their central themes are friendship and understanding. I think it’s so important that we can offer children of all ages an accessible way for them to learn more about World War One as it is vital to keep these memories alive for future generations to come.
I was therefore delighted to find that they had worked together again on a book celebrating all the animals who were used during World War One. Once again the story is told beautifully with an engaging rhyme which draws you into the story. It layers on new meaning on each page which reinforces the story that is unfolding, so that as we go along the message stays with us. Our central hero is Flo the rescue dog who features throughout the story and introduces us to other brave animals as his tales of heroism are told. The importance of Flo’s role in the war is emphasised at the end of each page,
‘Who served with Flo, a hero of war;
A mercy dog that saved lives.’
We meet a heroic pigeon who flies through dangerous battlefields to send messages and ends up wounded and a donkey who help transport wounded soldiers back to safety. The repeating of the same lines emphasises the danger these animals went through to try and save lives. And we must remember that these animals had no choice about taking part in the war and performed the most incredible acts of bravery. This book is incredibly powerful but poignant and like the other two I had an incredible emotional reaction to reading them.
The brilliance of these books is that they contain so much information about World War One but they are a true delight to read aloud and share with children. When reading them the rhythmic flow of the book makes you feel like you are going along on a journey with the characters and you become totally engaged with them. This is key when sharing with large groups of children because you really need to capture their imagination so they can fully appreciate the message of this book.
Martin Impey manages to create perfectly the world that Hilary Robinson conjures up in her writing. His illustrations are sublime and full of glorious details and tell so many other stories outside of Hilary’s words. In the opening scenes of the book we can see the soldiers going off to war and the carnival atmosphere as they are waved away, nobody knowing at the time the true horrors that they were about to face. The realities of living in the trenches are seen with rats scurrying around, a soldier shaving, a candle burning in the background and someone trying to raise morale by playing the bagpipes, Also the contribution of those people who are not often recognised in tales of the war are highlighted through the illustrations. Not only does this story highlight the animals who are often forgotten but all of those other people who took part in defending our country and helping the war effort. We see Sikh soldiers portrayed throughout and witness just how close our women nurses were to the battlefields.
You can spend hours looking at each page learning more about what happened during the War which enhances this fantastic story. As the story draws to a close we see the injured soldiers welcoming the brave animals returning to camp and it leaves us feeling optimistic as Flo returns home to her family. There is even the addition of maps which show the devastation the war has had on this beautiful country, so much is conveyed with these illustrations.
This book is truly fantastic and I think it is an essential addition to any school library along with ‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’ and ‘The Christmas Truce.’ It is incredibly difficult to put into words how all of these books helped me to connect with experiences that all those who took part in this terrible war went through. I think everyone should read them and share with their children.