Thursday, July 24, 2008

'Children and War' Books

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. ~~African proverb

Children and war? Surely not?! Sadly, yes! When we think of war, we want to think of ‘over there’, men and machines, not children and certainly not our children. But the reality is just the opposite. Children are war’s first and most devastated victims. They are used as barter, soldiers, and human bombs. They are tortured, raped, killed, and left homeless, orphaned, and dead. Children are the greatest sufferers when adults ‘play’ war.

What can we do? Many things certainly, but most of them are beyond the scope of this blog article. Here I would just like to point out some excellent books I have recently run across which deal very sensitively and poignantly with the subject of children and war. By reading these books ourselves and to our children, we can raise the level of awareness of the destructiveness of war—what it does to individuals, families, communities and nations. We can educate our children about the seriousness and the reality of war. Wars are not just somewhere else, happening to people we don’t care about and will never meet. When people kill each other, it affects all of us. When whole cities are burned down and great works of art destroyed, all of humanity suffers the loss.

Also I would like to put out a call for others to let me know when they find other books about children dealing with the effects of war by posting comments here.

I will be listing the four books I have selected in age appropriate order.

The first book is The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. In this book – suitable for even the youngest child –a very enterprising librarian saved most of her city’s books from utter destruction when the invasion of Iraq reached Basra on April 6, 2003. This is a very gentle introduction to the realities of a current war which can be safely read to even toddlers without too much fear of nightmares. (Parental discretion still advised!) The pictures are bright and colorful and there is usually no more than a sentence or two per page. It teaches the lesson about respect for personal property, something every two year old is very interested in.

Silent Music, A story of Baghdad by James Rumford doesn’t seem at first glance to be a story about war and that may be the best approach to take in reading to our children about difficult subjects. In Silent Music, the little boy, Ali, who lives in Baghdad, loves to write his letters. He seems to love to write as much as yours truly likes to read. Perhaps my readers have some personal passion they can relate to? Ali describes the feel and beauty he experiences when he draws his Arabic script; sometimes the letters are flowing easily, other times they are stiff and awkward. But always, he has the sense that he is making ‘silent music’ with his letters. Then one night he uses his writing to get himself through the bombing of his city. He notes how easy it is to write the word ‘war’ and how difficult to write the word ‘peace’, shalom. How ironic.

The third book I chose, Aram’s Choice is a book for older children, due to its length and text; it is twelve chapters and sixty-nine pages. It deals with the aftermath of the World War I. Aram and his grandmother are the sole survivors from his family of the Armenian genocide by the Turks. The story begins in Corfu, Greece in 1923 and Aram is twelve; he and his grandmother have already fled Anatolia, Turkey and taken shelter here. Now Aram has been offered the opportunity for a new life in Canada, but he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother to go so far away. The book is about beginning again, but not forgetting, learning to let go, but to treasure what was good and is now good. It's a beautiful story—both in the text and the illustrations. Not many books that I'm familiar with have dealt with this first atrocity of the twentieth century and certainly there are few for children. Most highly recommended!

And now for my favorite! Even though I enjoyed the other three books very much, this last one touched me most deeply. Perhaps it is because it is set in my own country, I do not know. It could be that, but I think it is the book itself and the author’s mystical writing style. For one thing, the text is written as if it were verse, which gives it an almost poetical feel. You will see what I mean when you open the cover. And then there is Kek, himself, the little Sudanese refugee who has come to America on the ‘flying boat’ but finds living here ‘hard work’ due to cold ‘like claws on skin’, sun that ‘burns your eyes’, dead trees, and no cows. Poor Kek is a fish out of water in our technological civilization. He is used to green, warmth, livestock and free movement; he has come to white, cold, metal and confinement. But Kek is known as a boy who ‘finds sun when the sky is dark’ and indeed he does find and make his way in this strange new world. As the story progresses you see the beauty and perfection in Applegate’s title, Home of the Brave.

Please do check out these books. In the war for the safety of our children, these are winners. I owe thanks for finding all these marvelous books to my favorite librarian friend from goodreads, Krista the Krazy Kataloguer! Thanks a million, Krista—keep those recommendations coming!
P.S. It only just dawned on me that this might be taken as a 'political statement' rather than as a blog post offering excellent books which gently introduce and teach our children about a difficult and yet very important subject. I am not trying to say or even imply that wars are never necessary; I served in the United States Air Force from 1979-1991 achieving the rank of major before I took an early retirement to stay home with my children. I know the value of our military forces and that wars can be just, valid and essential to world stability and overall peace. But as a mother, I'm also mindful of what happens to children during wartime.

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