Tag Archive: war


day my father became a bush

The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

Toda lives with her father and grandmother.  Her mother left them years earlier and went to a neighboring country.  Now Toda’s father has gone to be a soldier in a war.  Toda discovers that he has learned how to become a bush, so that he will not be shot.  At first Toda stays with her grandmother in their family bakery, but that soon becomes too dangerous.  Her grandmother sends her off to her mother, but Toda must make a dangerous journey with strangers to cross the border.  Though her grandmother has made plans, they go awry along the way and Toda must navigate much of the border crossing on her own.  Even once she is across the border, she doesn’t know where her mother is and how she will ever locate her.  This is a story told from a child’s view of war and being a refugee.

With such an unusual title, I wasn’t sure what this book was going to be about.  It was surprising to find myself in a book about war.  Even more amazing to find that it was a book filled with humor.  Van Leeuwen has written a book with a wild sense of humor but even more importantly a very unique point of view.  Toda sees the world in her own special way, often misunderstanding what adults around her are trying to say.  This gets her into all sorts of adventures along the way. 

With such a grim subject of a child refugee separated from all those who love her and continuing forward on her own, one would expect it to be frightening.  It certainly is at times, yet the grim reality is held at bay much of the time through Toda’s optimism about what is going to happen to her.  There are still moments where the reader is unsure of what is going to happen next and whether Toda is going to be severely injured if not killed.  Those moments are handled with the same frank and open attitude as the more silly moments.  Together they form the fabric of the story, one that is harrowing but also incredible.

Completely unique, this book features a fresh and noteworthy point of view that comes from a young survivor who has no idea how very brave she is.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Gecko Press.

winners curse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel refuses to join the military like her father wants her to.  They live on an island conquered by the Valorian army and her father is a general, but Kestel wants to continue playing her music not killing people.   She also doesn’t want to get married, which is her other option in Valerian society.  When in the markets with her best friend one day, Kestrel finds herself at the slave market and then against her better judgment she buys a young man.  Arin is an unusual slave, a gifted blacksmith, he also has a connection to music though he tries to hide it.  The two of them slowly begin to fall in love with one another, though both of their societies forbid it.  But the world is about to twist and turn around them, bringing their love into question, their motives into doubt, and placing their very lives at risk. 

Rutkoski has created a world tinged with magic but not overflowing with it.  While her book has the feel of a light romance, it has much more depth than that.  It is a book that explores questions about slavery, about what victors in a war should be able to take and own, about protection and when that becomes a sort of slavery or jail.  There is romance, definitely, but it is a romance built on unequal footing and even lies. 

This is a society in a precarious state, delicately balanced and written so that  the reader is very aware not only of how uncertain things are but also of the forces at work to destroy that balance.  Rutkoski does a great job of creating a world where the enslaved people had recently lived in the homes where they now work as servants.  The tug and pull of this and their connection to the land is a vital part of the book and makes the world unique and riveting.

The two main characters each have chapters of the book from their points of view.  Kestrel struggles against the constraints of her warrior upbringing, a society that is strict and formal but also bloodthirsty.  Arin has lost everything and much of the story is the reader trying to figure out what and who Arin once was.  Their relationship mirrors the world they are caught in.  It is rebellious, as delicate as blown glass, and yet with a core of strength. 

A stunning cover will have teens finding themselves thrown headlong into a world of corruption, war and slavery but also one of romance and beauty.  Powerful and magnificent, there are no easy answers between these covers but the questions are certainly worthy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

impossible knife of memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Released January 7, 2014.

The amazing Laurie Halse Anderson returns with a book that is powerful, thought-provoking and personal.  Hayley and her father just have each other.  For the past five years after her mother’s death, they have been hauling freight in his truck.  But now they have returned to her father’s home town so that Hayley can finish high school and live in a normal home.  However, their home is anything but normal.  Her father can’t hold down a job because of the images and flashbacks that come over him from his time in Iraq.  He drinks to keep the visions at bay, but then blacks out and forgets what he has done.  He has never hurt Hayley, but he is getting worse rather than better and Hayley is all alone in dealing with him.  At the same time, Hayley is slowly making friends at school, particularly Finn, a boy who has his own family issues to contend with.  As things at home get darker and more dangerous, Hayley has to figure out who she can trust to help, if anyone.

Anderson has written a book about PTSD and the traumas of being a soldier that speak to vets from any war.  She herself was the child of a vet from World War II and has a father who struggled himself with these issues.  Thanks to this personal connection, her book goes deep below the skin into the world of Hayley, her love for her father, and truly connects with the horrors of heroes who return home just to be haunted by what they have done and seen. 

Hayley is a strong character but also deeply flawed.  She is hidden behind so many protective layers that readers discover her as she gets to know Finn.  She slowly reveals a bright intelligence and witty humor.  Her relationship with her father is one based on adoration but also on pure coping with his disabilities.  She herself has faulty memories and blank places that she refuses to focus on and think about.  She too is hiding from her memories, but in her case they are the happy ones.

This book is deep, dark and haunting.  Anderson writes with consummate skill here and looks beyond the headlines into what PTSD in a family member truly means.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.

war brothers

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel LaFrance

This is the graphic novel version of McKay’s teen novel of the same title.  Based on interviews with child soldiers, this novel pulls no punches when telling the story of Jacob, a Ugandan boy taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a soldier.  Jacob is a teenager who is headed to a boy’s school.  Knowing the danger from Joseph Kony and his LRA, Jacob’s father provides additional armed guards at the school.  But it is not enough, Jacob and his friends are taken as child soldiers.  That begins a story of brutality, murder, starvation, and survival.  But this story is not without hope and resilience and heroism that flies in the face of the desperate and violent situation the boys find themselves in.

McKay warns readers right from the beginning about the violence of the storyline.  Through a letter from Jacob, the book warns of the brutality of what happens, ending with “There is no shame in closing this book now.”  McKay does not try to lessen that brutality, showing how child soldiers are indoctrinated into the LRA and broken.  Jacob struggles with having to commit atrocities himself, despite the food that is promised for him and his friends.  One of his friends does become a soldier, well fed and cared for, but with his spirit entirely decimated by what he has done.  It is an impossible choice, kill others or die yourself. 

LaFrance does an admirable job of showing violence but without adding drama to an already volatile and horrific situation.  He does not shy away from showing the brutality, often using close ups and unique lighting to show what happened without becoming too bloody.  It is a fine line to walk, demonstrating that this is real and actual, while leaving it powerful enough to speak on its own.

Highly recommended, this is a story that is riveting to read as long as you are brave enough to continue turning the pages.  The fact that this is based on true stories of child soldiers adds to the compelling nature of the tale.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.

red kite blue kite

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth

Based on the true story of a family friend, this book tells the story of a father and son separated during the Cultural Revolution in China.  Tai Shan and his father, Baba, loved to fly kites together from the roof of their home in their crowded city.  Then bad times come and the schools are closed.  Baba is sent to a labor camp and Tai Shan is sent to life in a small village with Granny Wang.  Both Tai Shan and his father continue to fly their kites, using them as a signal to one another and a way to maintain contact.  Eventually, Baba is taken further away to another labor camp where they cannot communicate with kites.  All that can be done is to wait until Baba is free again and their kites can soar together once more.

This picture book will be best understood by older children.  There is no need to have a background in Chinese history to understand this book because the story is so universal.  The use of kites as imagery of freedom and connection works particularly well, especially in the ending which is particularly uplifting after the tension and sorrow of the rest of the tale.  Jiang writes in prose that is filled with the emotion of the time.  He writes with deep compassion and doesn’t shy away from the pain that fills Tai Shan’s days separated from his father.

Ruth’s illustrations capture the mood of the story very effectively.  He moves from bright golds and oranges in the city to the dull colors of khaki and earth when the two are separated.  The color scheme is only alleviated by the pop of color from their kites.  When the two are together again, the color begins to return to the landscape.

This is a striking and universal look at families that are torn apart by war and the haunted time they spend apart.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

waterloo and trafalgar

Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec

Released October 22, 2012.

In this wordless picture book, two men watch one another over neighboring walls, separated only by a thin line of grass dotted with flowers.   Both sides of the wall are very similar, both men have spyglasses, drinks and umbrellas.  Their days are filled with boredom and suspicion, broken only by the appearance of a snail who visits them both and moments where they bother one another with music and loud noises.  It isn’t until a bird arrives and lays an egg that hatches and runs away that the truth of the conflict is revealed.  Tallec has managed in no words at all to show the fallacy of conflict and the way to peace.

Tallec uses humor here to bridge any divide.  It is mostly physical humor that will have children laughing, successfully mocking the conflict without any words at all.  The snail is a particularly inspired piece of humor that is sure to surprise and please.  So much of this book is about the surprises that life brings with the ending of the book providing the biggest and best surprise of all.  There is a great playfulness that invites readers into this serious situation to a degree that without it would not have been possible.  The wordless nature of the book also makes it particularly suited to a subject of crossing barriers.  I can see using this with people who speak different languages, allowing a depth of discussion that would be unusual with other wordless books.

This book is outstanding.  It speaks to peace without any preaching, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions.  It is a striking and vibrant example of what can be achieved with no words at all.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Bamboo People

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Set in modern Burma, this novel is the story of two teen boys on opposite sides of the conflict between the Burmese and the Karenni, one of Burma’s ethnic minorities.  Chiko’s father has been arrested for opposing the Burmese government.  Now Chiko and his mother have no money to survive on, so Chiko heads out to be tested for a teaching position.  But the test was a trap, and Chiko is taken into the Burmese army training to become a soldier.  There he uses his wits to survive, befriending a street boy, who knows much more about fighting and survival than he does.  When the time comes to allow his friend to head to the jungle on a dangerous mission, Chiko steps up and offers himself instead.  Through that mission, he is rescued by Tu Reh, a Karenni teen, who has hated the Burmese ever since they burned down his village.  Now Chiko’s life is in the hands of Tu Reh, who sees him only as the enemy.  This book is about the bravery it takes to make decisions that turn boys into men, learning that compassion is the only way forward.

Beautifully written, Perkins has captured a complicated situation in a way that young readers will not only understand but will be drawn to.  Rather than using alternating chapters for the two points of view, Perkins tells the first part of the book from Chiko’s point of view and then Tu Reh enters in the second half.  This lends a great cohesiveness to the story, allowing readers to view the conflict from both sides, understand both, and at the same time get enough in-depth time with each character to see through their eyes. 

Perkins excels at depicting foreign cultures through sounds, scents, and tastes.  Food is used to convey the differences and similarities of cultures.  There are no long paragraphs of description here, instead readers are treated to details woven into the story that bring the entire book to life.  This is done with a skill that makes it seem effortless. 

Her characterizations are also done with the same grace, allowing readers to slowly learn about the two boys, learn about the cultures, and slowly be exposed to the horror that teens on both sides of the conflict live with.  The darker parts of battle and imprisonment are dealt with obliquely, allowing readers to bring their own level of understanding to the atrocities being committed.  Again, this is a testimony to the skill of Perkins’ writing.

Highly recommended, this book takes the horrors of war and package them in a piercingly beautiful story.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Also reviewed by many, many other bloggers.  Check out a list of them on Mitali’s blog.

The Day of the Pelican

 
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

Meli and her family are Albanians living in Kosovo.  They are in grave danger.  Her older brother, Mehmet is detained after leaving school one day.  He is finally returned home to his family.  So many people are being killed by Serbs that they are forced to flee their home, leaving their store and almost everything else behind.  The family is forced first into tents in the mountains where they are safe for a short time, sleeping in a single shared tent and living without running water or electricity.  Mehmet expresses interest in joining the Kosovo Liberation Party and the family leaves the mountains to keep him safe.  They then live with their uncle in the family’s small farm with many people living under one roof.  They live in constant fear of being discovered and turned out of their home with the tiny babies, elderly grandmother, and small children.  Eventually they are forced to become refugees and the family is forced to separate with Meli and her immediate family going to the United States.

Paterson tells a gripping story of heroism, courage and family ties in this brief novel.  As readers experience the fear and uncertainty through Meli’s eyes they will be moved by her story.  This book captures the emotions of war without allowing them to overtake the storyline.  Instead the book is about everyday people becoming heroes, small choices that mean living one more day, and endurance in the face of such hatred.  Paterson rights with an honesty and a tautness that makes the book easy to read but difficult to digest. 

This is an important book that is not just about the Albanians in Kosovo, but about all wars, all displaced people, and their courage and strength.  Paterson takes a single incident among many and makes it universal and true.  Highly recommended, this is a great book for classroom exploration and discussion.   Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received at the ALA Conference. 

A Child’s Garden: a story of hope by Michael Foreman

This story of a child’s world reduced to rubble and devastation is one that will ring true with children of war, and ring warning bells with children who have not witnessed it.  A young boy lives in ruins, separated from the green hills he loves by a fence.  In the rubble, he discovers a shoot of green which he nurtures.  It becomes a grapevine that covers the barbed wire fence, bringing butterflies and birds, and sheltering shade.  The soldiers tear down the vine, leaving it dead.  It isn’t until the next spring that the boy sees green sprouts on the other side of the fence and a little girl tending them.  Then green sprouts appear on his side of the fence, where both vines grow to cover the fence in between.

Told simply and with great respect, this slim picture book manages to evoke hope, growth, change and community.  Using imagery to make his case about war, Foreman has created a book that is accessible and profound.  What a great image of green vine covering stark wire, life absorbing death, connection replacing coercion.  At the same time, it can be read by small children as a vine, and a vine alone without losing much of its power and statement. 

Perfect for discussing peace and community with classes, this book naturally starts dialogue and questions about the world, our own prosperity, and violence.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

No!

No! by David McPhail

A young boy sets out to deliver a letter and on his way is faced with all sorts of war actions including bombing, troops, and tanks.  When he is bullied by a larger boy, he speaks out and stops it.  This nearly wordless picture book only has a single word, repeated three times in different tones.  The illustrations in McPhail’s classic style paired with the single word make this a very powerful book about the power of one voice, one word, one person.

I am a fan of wordless books because so often as here illustrations can say volumes more than a page of text.  McPhail has created a book that talks of war more powerfully than many long treatises on the topic.  Even better, this war is accessible to children who can understand the horror being shown but then will be amazed and relieved at the power of a dissident.  I especially appreciate the final pages in the book which show the tools of war being used in peaceful ways.  Lovely.

Recommended as a book to start a discussion.  This is not a story time book but one that should be used when talking about war and peace in depth or for a family to read together and discuss. 

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