Carmen and Marco are siblings and have been in the care of their grandfather for a few days. They fight a lot, if this is mine, if I was first. Until the grandfather, fed up, tells them: “There is nothing more ugly than arguing between brothers.” He continues the bearded octogenarian: “Sometimes things can end horribly. To prove it to you, I will tell you a story that happened right here, in Spain”. The spanish civil war (Shackleton Kids, 2022) is the book signed by Sara Marconi, with the advice of the professor at the Complutense University Gutmaro Gómez Bravo, a specialist in the Civil War, Francoism and memory policies. Novelty: it is not just another book; This, from historical rigor, is designed for boys and girls from 10 years old.
The new history curriculum calls the 1936 uprising a “coup” for the first time
It begins with the pre-Republic social and political context: “To understand what happened we have to travel to the year 1931. At that time, in Spain there was a king, Alfonso XIII, but many Spaniards were angry with him.” The attentive and expectant children ask the grandfather: Didn’t he bring good presents?, and the old man replies: “Rather, a very bad one. For years he had supported the dictatorship, that is, a government in which they rule without anyone having voted for them and they impose what they say”.
One of the strengths of the book is that it treats the readers as they are: smart boys and girls. The author has been writing for them for years and says that they are capable of understanding many things that may soon seem complicated to us, “especially if one makes an effort to explain them in an understandable and interesting way.” She gives a clue: “The Italian designer Bruno Munari said that complicating is easy, simplifying is difficult. To simplify you have to remove, and to remove you have to know what can be removed. Taking away instead of adding implies recognizing the essence of things and communicating them in their essentiality”.
Story and images. Where we come from and where we went. What values did the Republic defend or what affected privileges did those who carried out the coup d’état have? Text example of The spanish civil war: “In many areas of Spain, the situation in the countryside was dramatic. A few landowners owned large tracts of land that made day laborers work from sunup to sundown for such low wages that they didn’t even have enough to eat.” With the introduction of this fact, children can draw their own conclusions when it is then explained how the Republic made an effort to distribute some land among the poor and how the Church sided with the coup plotters, given that the Republic “He had taken away his power and had caused him to lose part of his wealth”, especially land.
The multifactors that led to the class war that was the Civil War are exposed. How? With precise and beautiful illustrations and with a well written text and the description of the exact historical facts to be able to understand what happened. Gómez Bravo affirms without hesitation: “Kids can perfectly understand complex ideas. In his own way, with his language, yes. The problem in history is to connect the facts, and there you do have to make an effort and this book allows it”. The professor has two children and says that he took on the job for them, since he always complains that they don’t understand the story well. He has reflected many times on why they are not interested in or fit in with the topic and his conclusions are that the explanations they access are either very simple or very old-fashioned. “Simple I mean: either good and bad, or just images,” he says.
How to bring history closer to children?
The Civil War happened more than 80 years ago. “For a child, it’s a long time ago,” says the author. “A civil war is always a deep wound for a country. And it is necessary to try to make accounts with that past from an early age, gradually approaching history to better understand the present and build a different future”. Gutmaro Gómez defends that boys and girls need to know the Civil War without taboos and without prejudice: “It is difficult because it is part of a cultural or ideological war that continues today”, that is why, according to the professor, “it is so easy for it to be manipulated or reduced to good or bad or for the facts to be distorted”. Intentionality, he says, is political, not informative.
The teacher says that historical events, or rather decontextualized history, reach them through mobile phones, especially via images that lack text. “They see it without argument or language. Being visual, they land it very deformed”. In schools, the subject of History has two problems: a lot of syllabus and few hours a week. The Civil War in particular is not studied every year, something is seen at the end of Primary, once in ESO and up to the second year of Baccalaureate. Didactic materials like this book have a lot of room, since there are not so many or so rigorous.
Gómez Bravo says that in this book “history has not been decaffeinated” and that his work has consisted of facilitating and structuring the content, in addition to synthesizing it so that Sara Marconi could write from the historical exercise. It therefore has a scientific basis and, she says, “the reader’s ideology doesn’t matter because the facts are irrefutable.”
But how to tell? And he answers: “We cannot reconstruct history from the present to make it attractive, that is presentism and it is a gross error.” He points out that one should not use words or problems of the now that start in the past: “That’s like doing spoilers”. And he provides the example: “This about there were two Spains and they fought a war… That reading is constructed and much later, in addition to being a lie.”
For Gómez Bravo, the path should be something like: “There is a time of profound political change, a global economic crisis. Some movements appear that are not democratic and oppose the reforms organizing themselves violently, and the failure of the coup d’etat drags to a civil war”. That is to say, it consists of teaching children to think historically, and “banish preconceived ideas such as the supposed initial violence or the previous separation of the Spains”.
The Civil War was not a fight between brothers
The “but” to the book: the Civil War was not a dispute between brothers as the text opens. Gutmaro Gómez Bravo distances himself from this author’s poetic license and affirms that the simile is not accurate. She explains: “This is an example of what Munari was saying, what is the essence of this complicated thing? What is your core? And once I have understood it, what similar experience does a child have of that complicated something? How can I narrate it to them based on what they already know, that is part of their daily life? Marconi says that the fit is not perfect, but that the simile of the fight between brothers “allows us to make complex issues accessible and approachable.”
The text starts off on the wrong foot. Tatiana Romero is a historian and considers that there was a series of oppressions, privileges, unequal structures both in power and in the distribution of wealth, with which a Navarrese or Catalan bourgeois cannot be equated with an Andalusian or Extremaduran day laborer. “The fight between brothers is a fallacy and it must be dismantled from an early age. They are not two equal brothers, but some people who abuse the monopoly of violence, such as the army, which rose up against a democratically constituted State”.
Romero believes that boys and girls can understand when an unjust authority bloodily imposes itself on reason. And it changes radically if the war is between equals, as two brothers would be, or the result of a coup and three years of conflict because the citizens defended themselves from the coup in favor of democracy.