Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel, LOST BOYS, is the story of a young boy who is pulled into the very adult world of war. It is heartbreaking imagine any child suffering the horror of violent conflict, but for many children across the world, living through war is a daily reality. UNICEF reports that about half of all civilian casualties in armed conflict are children, but the ravages of war go beyond injury and death: hunger, disease, psychological trauma, and disruption of schooling are just a few of the painful scars that war leaves in its wake.
As authors, parents, and educators, we often struggle with how to expose our own children to the realities of the world without overwhelming them. Books offer a window that allow kids to explore frightening or difficult subjects from a place of relative safety. Several years ago I was in the audience of a panel discussion that explored the topic of writing about war for young people. Each author on the panel could recall a book they had read in childhood that was pivotal in building their childhood understanding of armed conflict.
For me, the most memorable books about war were those I used in my own classroom teaching. Deborah Ellis’ THE BREADWINNER and Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ SO FAR FROM THE BAMBOO GROVE both showed the devastating impact of conflict on children and families, regardless of which “side” the family was on. My students found Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ book particularly powerful, as our study of the novel always culminated in a visit from the author. There were hugs, tears, and questions after questions. Even years later my students talk about what Yoko’s story meant to them.
Today I asked fellow Emus to share their own memories of books about war that resonated with them. Here are their thoughts.
Sarvinder Naberhaus says:
NUMBER THE STARS is a wonderful story of a nation and children’s heroism. I love how children were part of the process of risking their lives to save others.
Debbi Michiko Florence writes:
FAREWELL TO MANZANAR was the first book that taught me about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I was in 4th grade and I had a billion questions. Fortunately I had a Japanese American teacher. Then I learned my dad and his family had been interned. I still have that book today on my shelf. I bought a copy for my daughter to read as well.
Terry Pierce writes:
I can’t recall a single book about war from my childhood, but if songs could count, I’d say that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young influenced me. I can still recite many of their anti-war songs. The simplicity of the lyrics, harmony and guitar in “Find the Cost of Freedom” are powerful. The other song that resonated strongly with me was “Ohio”. I still remember sitting in shock watching the news of the four Kent State student protesters being killed by the Ohio national guard. It was an eye-opening moment for me to realize that peaceful protesters could be murdered by our own military. Ohio was a strong reflection of the anger and sorrow so many people experienced during that time.
Christina Uss says:
I feel like I was woefully unexposed to books that about war or conflict when I was young. All that pops into my mind was Johnny Tremain, a tale which I remember felt hard to understand and archaic. War appeared to be something that happened elsewhere, long ago, and would never touch me or anyone I knew. The kidlit books I’m reading now and discussing with my kids are enlightening us both about the resilience and vulnerability of children in countries hit by war – I was particularly touched by Ibtisam Barakat’s TASTING THE SKY and BALCONY ON THE MOON about coming of age in Israeli-occupied Palestine. I wrote to Ibtisam and she ended up sending a postcard to my daughter to say hello in Arabic (one of her favorite things as a child was having pen pals from around the world. Even if she couldn’t travel, her words could.)
We are so happy that Darcey Rosenblatt and LOST BOYS have added to the rich list of titles that help young readers begin to grasp the impact of war. Congratulations, Darcey!
Kat Shepherd is a writer and former classroom teacher living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.