As a school librarian and author, I’m already convinced of the value and importance of books for young people. Equally, I’m constantly on the lookout for evidence that will help persuade those who are yet to reach this conclusion. I’m therefore delighted to have the opportunity to talk about Line of Fire by the French illustrator Barroux and English translator Sarah Ardizzone.
It’s a fantastic book from both an aesthetic and an educational perspective. The concise prose of the original, unknown diarist combines with Barroux’s stark yet somehow rich and subtle illustrations to make a story of compelling human interest. Line of Fire emphasises not only the horrors of war but also its small joys and, perhaps most significantly, its periods of crushing monotony. The focus on small but telling privations and yearnings – untreated blisters; the longing for a glass of wine; the drudgery of route marches – brings home the realities of conflict left out by big picture histories. This is a book that is both intensely personal and enormously resonant for readers of all ages.
On 14th February, Barroux, along with his English publisher Emma Langley, visited St Marylebone School in central London, where I manage the library service. This visit turned out to be probably the most inspiring author / illustrator event the school has ever hosted.
Over the course of two sessions, each lasting almost an hour, close to 300 students from Years 8 and 9 were enthralled by both the story told by the unknown soldier whose words are the ultimate inspiration behind Line of Fire and the story of creating the book itself.
Barroux, with input from Emma, provided vivid insights (including live drawing) into the process of translating written words into illustrations and his own distinct ‘eye’ and artistic skill. Students were also introduced to a new perspective on the First World War, which could only enrich their understanding of the conflict.
Both the book and the visit are powerful illustrations of the power of stories to educate as well as entertain, and demonstrate the value of authors and illustrators coming into schools to engage directly with their audience. More than 50 students have expressed interest in buying their own copy of the book. Teachers commented that the events were “truly inspirational”, “fascinating” and “incredibly useful”. “It’s given me so many good ideas,” said one.
Next time someone asks me to justify my belief in the inspirational and educative power of books, I’ll just hand them a copy of Line of Fire*and invite them to talk to our students.
Dr Graham Gardner
Director of Independent Learning & Library Resources Manager
The St Marylebone School, London