Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 9, 2012

World War I: An Interactive History Adventure

World War I: An Interactive History Adventure
by Gwenyth Swain
You Choose Books- Capstone Press, 2012
ISBN 9781429660204
Gr. 3-7

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

There seem to be three major categories of nonfiction books for children:
1) Curriculum books that teachers use with classes as part of math, science and social studies lessons
2) Research book that students check out when they're looking for information for a research project
3) Pleasure reading nonfiction books that kids read independently (The Guinness Book of World Records, the DK Eyewitness series, and anything by Nic Bishop fall into this category.)

I recently came across a nonfiction series from the third category that is a hot commodity in the library. Kids stop by daily to see which books have been recently returned. The books are part of the Interactive History Adventure series by Capstone, and they're modeled after the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1970s and 80s.

I brought home a few books from the series to read to see what the buzz is about, and I found myself sucked into the stories. Each book begins with a page titled "About Your Adventure." Here's a passage from the introduction to World War I:

"YOU are a young person coming of age as the world explodes in war. What will you do? How will you face the horrors of worldwide conflict? In this book you'll explore how the choices people made meant the difference between life and death. The events you'll experience happened to real people."

The story is written in the second person narrative making the reader the main character. At the beginning of World War I, I had to choose to live in Belgium, join the British military or join the American troops. I chose the British military and followed the instructions on the bottom of the page to turn to page 43.

After a series of choices, I ended up as an infantryman in Wales. While delivering a message to the command post, I was shot and killed. Immediately, I turned back to the beginning of the book to try another path. It is obvious why the books are so appealing to middle grade readers. The stories are full of adventure and suspense, and there are dozens of possible stories to follow within one book. The author does not shy away from the violence or bloodshed of war which contributes to the kid appeal.

You see David lying nearby. Blood is gushing from a wound to his head.  You rush to his side but forget to stay low to the ground. A German bullet strikes you, and you fall. (p. 63)

Black and white photographs, maps and illustrations throughout the book help paint a picture of historical events for young readers.  Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, bibliography, and index.

Essentially the books in the Interactive History series are a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction.  It's evident from the bibliography that Swain researched World War I when writing the stories, however the book contains invented dialogue and fictionalized characters.

Boom! A huge explosion rocks the ship. You and Joe are thrown from the deck. 

"What's happening?" you shout.

"It must be a German torpedo," Joe yells back. (p. 21)

For that reason, this is not the book I would hand to a student researching World War I for a class assignment. It is a book that I would give to reluctant readers. The length of the stories and the action-packed scenes from history will hook them right away. There are more than two dozen titles in the series covering topics such as the Titanic, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Salem Witch Trials. So far the books have accomplished two things in my library: they have attracted more readers to the nonfiction section, and they are serving as springboards to other history books. That makes me one happy librarian.

Visit the Capstone site to view a page from a book and to see the list of available titles:


  1. Good to know this is a strong series. I've selected other series for my library. I, too, can appreciate that readers have alternatives and can go back and redo.
    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  2. Nice! Will definitely check this book out. I have a feeling that my ten year old daughter would also enjoy it. I think Alex has something similar over on his blog, I'd have to discover this book for myself to know what it's all about! :)

  3. This is the first I have heard of this series. It sounds exciting! I am going to check it out. Thanks for the review.

  4. Love to know something from the past and to make it short, I am a big fan of history and so glad to find reliable sources about world war 1 and 2 because I am certain this can give me enough information.

  5. Thanks for all these great suggestions! Now to fill up my GoodReads shelves! ap world history textbook