Tag: war

Review: The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber

Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber

The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon

Released September 15, 2015.

Thurber’s profound story is brought to vivid life in this new picture book version. Tiger wakes up and decides that he wants to be king of the beasts, declaring to his wife that he will be king before the night is over. He believes that others are calling for change as well and that the moon will rise in his colors, striped and orange. Lion though is not willing to give up his title. The two start fighting and soon all of the animals in the jungle are fighting too, though many don’t know why they are fighting. Eventually after an immense battle, there is only one survivor, Tiger. He may be king, but there are no beasts to rule any more.

Yoon takes the words of Thurber and creates a picture book that is startling and incredible. She captures in expressions, the pride of declaring yourself to be a ruler, the shock of the old ruler being challenged. The epic battle is shown on pages that fold out to a four-page spread that brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica in its confusion and brutality. Done in only two colors, the green and orange capture the moist heat of the jungle. Though the illustrations appear to be prints, they are actually done with a combination of hand drawing and computer art. However it was done, it is pure brilliance.

A great book to spur discussion about war, pride and costs, this picture book will resonate with young readers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

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.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

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.

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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.

Review: War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay

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.

Review: Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-li Jiang

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.

Review: Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec

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.