Visualising War

War in Children’s Books with Jill Calder, James Robertson and Jim Hutcheson

July 14, 2021 The University of St Andrews Season 1 Episode 17
Visualising War
War in Children’s Books with Jill Calder, James Robertson and Jim Hutcheson
Show Notes

In this episode, Alice interviews artist Jill Calder, author James Robertson and illustrator/book designer Jim Hutcheson, who is Creative Director at the Scottish publishing company Birlinn Books.  One summer, Jim was exploring the wares in a small bookshop in Spain when he came across an illustrated history of the life of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, a Castilian knight also known as ‘El Cid’ or ‘El Campeador’. That got him thinking about the representation of other medieval warriors in literature, especially in children’s books, and inspired him to commission Jill and James to create a new illustrated history of Robert the Bruce, published in 2014. 


Robert the Bruce is famous for many reasons, but particularly for leading the First War of Scottish Independence; so Jill, James and Jim quickly began wrestling with how to represent war and violence in art and text, with a young readership in mind. In the podcast, we discuss the decisions they took about how to represent iconic battles and acts of cruelty that today might count as war crimes. We talk about the layers that art can add to text, and vice versa; their memories of begin fascinated as well as horrified by the war stories they came across as children; how young readers can blur but also distinguish between fact and fiction; and the role that historical war stories can play in prompting young people to ask important questions about modern conflicts and war in general. 

Among other questions, Alice asked:

  • How has the representation of war in children’s books changed over time?
  • When telling the story of Robert the Bruce, which aspects of battle and war did Jill, James and Jim particularly want to highlight?
  • Were there some aspects of war/violence which they opted not to represent?
  • How have children responded to the book's depiction of medieval warfare?
  • What responsibilities do children's publishers, authors and illustrators have when depicting war for young people in the 21st century?
  • How might the representation of war in children's literature change over the next few decades?

We hope you enjoy the episode!

For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. If you want to find out more about our conversation, you can read these two blogs here and here.

For more information about individuals and their projects, access to resources and more, please have a look on the University of St Andrews Visualising War website.  

Music composed by Jonathan Young
 Sound mixing by Zofia Guertin