My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been planning to review more non-fiction on the blog for a while. A lot of it stems from inspiration provided by conversations with my peers both on and off, and the slightly uncomfortable awareness that non-fiction is something I very, rarely cover.
A lot of that stems from my own personal experience with these books. I’ve always read, and I’ve always read fast. There simply wasn’t enough space in the average non-fiction book to hook me. And then with the advent of the internet (ha, I sound ancient!), that quickness translated into online literacies and non-fiction was something that I rarely paid attention to. It just didn’t fit into my reading pattern. And I think a lot of that still bears weight today – the quickness, the expectation of a text to provide an all round reading experience and to provide it now. Why would we read non-fiction when there’s the entire internet at our fingertips?
Well, I think we would read and still need non-fiction for books like this. I’m a great believe in understanding the process of reading itself; understanding why you react to something in the way you do, understanding how you approach something, even understanding how you read a page – all of this helps to form your critical confidence. And it’s a confidence that translates into so many other disciplines. Learning how to interact with, learning how to decode text, teaches us how to understand systems, sequential reasoning, cause and effect and so on and so forth.
Archie’s War is a wondrous thing and it’s a wonder that will last and last, I think, primarily because of the multi-faceted appeal of it. It’s an appeal that starts on the back page where Williams thanks Archie for his scrapbook and wishes the reader ‘best-browsing.’ That’s such a clever, special touch right there and it’s one which is underlined by the front cover which proclaims: “By ME – Archie Albright”. It’s bringing the book into this lovely, clever space where it’s almost read as a ‘found object’, an artefact, as opposed to being ‘written about the past’. And that connection to the source, the touch and pull nature of the scrapbook, and the carefully coloured in figures, all of that starts to reinforce the precious nature of this book. It is Archie’s scrapbook. It’s so – crafted, so carefully, wonderfully put together by him. I love it.
So the tangibility of this book is beautiful, the weight of it, the truth of it is all someting we get given before we’ve even opened the page. And when we do, we’re given a lovely hybrid of comic strip, stuck in objects and fold out letters – all of which make the reading a continual joy. You move left, right, up, down – you interact with the text and you get involved in it. You’re an active reader, you’re an engaged reader – you cannot read Archie’s War passively. This is smart, clever stuff and it’s stuff which is making me sad that it’s taken this long for me to talk about non-fiction.
Another thing to note about Archie’s War is that there is a lot of humanity in this book. Williams’ style is warm and caring and truthful. She weaves fact and story together and creates a narrative which teaches (and it does teach a lot), but never sounds preachy. Some of the spreads are breathtaking and made me quite generally look again at topics which I thought I knew about.
The final thing is that a book like this is full of inspiration for follow up activities across pretty much every subject out there. I particularly enjoyed this book trailer I found on Youtube.
I hope that I’ll be reviewing more non-fiction. It’s definitely part of my plans. And in a way, I hope they’re all as quietly inspirational and as brilliant as Archie’s War.