Tom Palmer on the Images that Inspired His Books: A KS2 History and Literacy Resource

With his latest book, Arctic Star, Tom Palmer has crafted another beautiful piece of historical fiction that immerses his readers in the devastating impact of war. Tom has previously spoken to me about the research that went into After the War, his fictionalised account of the Jewish boys who came to live in the Lake District after they survived the horrific events of the Second World War. You can read about the detailed and careful work he did to capture their stories in my previous post.

After reading Arctic Star, Tom spoke to me about the visual resources that inspired his stories and the importance of pictures as a historical source. He very kindly offered to choose a single image that inspired each of his historical books and show how a picture can be the starting point for students to create their own stories about the past.

An image can inspire a story in many different ways:

1.     Who is in the picture? What does the picture tell you about them? How old are they? How tall are they? Who are they with? What are the people in the picture wearing? What do their clothes say about them and when the photograph was taken? What are they doing? Who might be missing from the picture?

2.     When was the picture taken? Is it in colour or black and white? What can you see in the picture that tells you about when it was taken?

3.     Where was the picture taken? What does that place look like or feel like? What does that environment sound like? Why are the people in the picture there?

4.     How does the picture make you feel? Does the image make you happy, sad, frightened, hungry, etc?

5.     What do you think happened immediately before or after that picture was taken? What story does the picture tell you?

The following extraordinary images have been chosen by Tom to show that very different pictures can be a starting point for any story.

Arctic Star

Set onboard the arctic convoys that carried supplies across the Arctic Ocean to Russia between 1941 and 1945, Arctic Star follows three young sailers who have grown up together and now face the most terrifying and dangerous experience of their lives. You can read my review of this stunning book here. Tom was inspired by an extraordinary image that was taken from the bridge of HMS Sheffield as it made one of these crossings.

“I wanted to write a book about the Navy. My wife used to work aboard HMS Belfast and told me that the ship had been involved in the Arctic Convoys. I logged onto the Imperial War Museum website again and this photo – with the huge wave about to crash over the exposed men on the bridge of HMS Sheffield – hit me hard. It haunted me. Having to endure that day after day along with all the other challenges of naval warfare. I needed to know more. Photos and images often draw me into wanting to read more and listen to find out what was going on.”

Armistice Runner

Armistice Runner tells the story of Lily and what she happens when she discovers the diaries her great-great-grandfather kept during the First World War. This powerful and extremely emotional (I sobbed through a lot of this one) book vividly evokes the terror of trench warfare but also underscores the importance of family relationships. Tom has chosen an image by Adrian Hill, an artist who was commission by the Imperial War Museum to record the the devastation of the warfare that took place on the Western Front between 1917 and 1919.

“I wanted to write a story to do with a runner who was involved in the First World War. I searched on the Imperial War Museum website and found this image. I was struck with how small the figure looks, how vulnerable he is on the battlefield. Who would be asked to do this mid-battle? And why? It was needing the answers to questions like that that inspired Armistice Runner.”

D-Day Dog

In D-Day Dog, as Jack comes to terms with his father’s upcoming deployment into a war-zone, he takes comfort in the companionship of his dog, Finn and the history of the 1944 Normandy landings. He begins to uncover the story of Emile Corteil, a British soldier who parachuted into France with his para-dog, Glenn, who was trained to detect mines, guard and patrol. Tom has shared the picture of Emile and Glen that was the starting point of this award-winning book.

“I wanted to write a book about a dog. We’d just got a dog. But I knew I needed to link the story to history. I was aware the 75th anniversary of D-Day was coming up, so I searched on Google images with the words D-DAY and DOG. This is the image that came up. It was hard to resist the story of such a great-looking couple.”

Over the Line

Set at the beginning of the First World War, Over the Line is about young footballer Jack and his experience of fighting in the trenches in Flanders. This immensly powerful book vividly portrays the traumatic experiences of conflict but also shows that Jack’s passion for football can bring a glimmer of light into the darkest of times. Tom took inspiration from this image of a footballer who fought in that war and would have lived through many of the same experiences as Jack.

“This photo was sent to me by a friend who knew the story of the Huddersfield Town player, Jack Cock. He told me that Jack was a veteran of the Battle of the Somme and had returned to England after the First World War to resume his football career. Here is the face of a man who is scoring a goal after he has been through Hell.”

After the War

The brilliant After the War shares the devastating story of a group of Jewish children who were brought to the Lake District after surviving the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. This beautiful piece of historical fiction was carefully constructed from the accounts of those survivors and Tom’s extensive research into the events of the war. It is perfect that Tom has chosen a picture of some of the boys who came to Lake Windermere to build a new life.

“These three boys are refugees from the Holocaust. They’ve come directly from a liberated concentration camp to the UK in 1945. At first it looks like a happy holiday scene and it seems incongruous, but the deeper you look not the faces of two of the boys the more you can imagine what they are thinking or feeling. Also the cap the middle boy is wearing. I needed to know what it was and why he had it. I found all the answers I needed on and became good friends with the curator of the website and exhibition. He guided me through writing the book, finding me more images that would set off a storyline.”

To find out more about Tom and his books you can visit his website at It is packed with resources for all of his books. You can also follow him on Twitter: @tompalmerauthor

All of these books were published by Barrington Stoke and you can find out more about their work and other publications at

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