Playing War – Perfect Picture Book

Playing War

Kathy Beckwith, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, 2005, Fiction

Suitable for:  Grades 2-5

Themes: Games, Children playing war,  Real loss and Friendship

Opening/ Synopsis:  “Too hot for basketball,” Luke said.  “Let’s do something else…”I know said Jeff.  “Let’s play war!”  Luke stood up.  “Good idea!”  “What about riding bikes?” asked Jen.  “No,” Jeff replied.  “War’s the best!  We haven’t played it for a while.”   A group of five friends decide one summer day to play a game of war outside.   Luke draws a line in the dirt and writes an S for soldiers on one side, and an E for enemies on the other side.  They divide into teams.  Jen explains the rules to Sameer, who is new to the neighborhood.   Grabbing sticks for guns, and pinecones for bombs and grenades, Luke and Sameer take off as the enemies.  As the game gets underway, Sameer decides he doesn’t want to play and goes home.  The five friends gather to play war again the next day.  Sameer again doesn’t want to play.  He tells his friends that he has been in a REAL war, but they don’t believe him.  Then Sameer explains that he was at school one day when his house was blown up and his family was killed.  The kids are speechless.   As the friends listen to Sameer’s story, they make a very important decision that day.  This is a great book for the school library.

Why I like this book:  I love this book for many reasons.  Today children are exposed to the violence of war on TV and in movies.  They have  family members deployed or they know of a soldier who has been killed in a war.  Playing War gives parents an opportunity to read the book aloud with their kids,  talk about what is happening in the world, and discuss whether it is a good idea to make a game of war.  I like that the author, Kathy Beckwith, didn’t include adults in this story.  Her characters make their own decisions about whether or not to continue their game.  This is a very powerful story written in very gentle and compassionate way so that kids can learn from each other.   Lea Lyon’s beautiful and expressive watercolor illustrations support the emotion of the story.

Resources:  Check out the Reach and Teach website for activities, resources and teacher’s notes that Tilbury House Publishers created for Playing War.   Additional reading materials for parents:  Diane Levin, Ph.D.,  is the author of two books Teaching Young Children in Violent Times and The War Play Dilemma.

Note: On March 4, I reviewed a YA book,  Abe in Arms, about a child soldier, who suffers flashbacks about his life in war-torn Africa.  I accidentally released the book on Sunday, so many missed it.  It is a very powerful story and I hope you check it out.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Abe in Arms – Child Soldiers

Abe in Arms

Pegi Deitz Shea

PM Press (Reach and Teach), 2010,  YA Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 12 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, War, PTSD, Courage and Hope

Opening/Synopsis:  “What’s your name boy?  He stares into the mirrored sunglasses.  Words don’t come out.  I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours.  What’s behind those mirrors?  All he can see is himself.  What’s inside the camouflage uniform?  My name is Grant.  See, it’s easy.  Now tell me yours.  He finds a voice.  It comes out:  James.”  Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army,  is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family.  Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget.   It evokes a powerful response within you.

Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship.   He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents.  Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.”  Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly  transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village.  He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position.  His coach is shouting his name.   Abe is rushed to the hospital.  Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister.  At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things.  At school he is zoning out in classes.  He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth.  He distances himself from his girlfriend.  His father, Dr George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD.  Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories.  He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier — something he wants to bury.  This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.

Why I like this book:   Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa.  She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places.  These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific.  They are robbed of their childhoods.  How will those who survive, ever live normal lives?  Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past.  Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of  his family who long to see him heal.  Click here on the Reach and Teach  resource link for Abe in Arms.  This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier.  Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.

Operation Marriage – Perfect Picture Book

Operation Marriage

Cynthia Chin-Lee, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Reach and Teach and PM Press, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and Up

Themes:  Equality, Gay Parents, Difficulty for Children, Loving Families

Synopsis:  After school my best friend Zach said to me, “We can’t be best friends anymore.”  “Why not?”  “It’s your parents, Alex.  They’re…they’re not really married.”  “Of course they’re married,”  I said.  My face got red-hot.  “No, they’re not.  My dad says two women can’t be married.”  He dashed away.  Alex and Nicky are confused when they realize their parents had a commitment ceremony, but had not been able to get married at the time.  They tell Mama Lee and Mama Kathy that they want them to get married and start planning their “Operation Marriage,” campaign.  Because Proposition 8 might pass in California, their parents decide to get married in a church.  Alex is a bridesmaid, and Nicky is the ring bearer.  They shop for dressy clothing, flowers, and baked special foods.  Alex and Nicky get to invite two friends.  At school Alex shows her friends the wedding photos, including Zach.

The children live in San Francisco, and their mothers get married in 2008, when California briefly authorized same-sex marriages, then revoked the right with Proposition 8.  The author shows how difficult it was for children of gay parents.  I can only imagine how confused the children must have been with all the negativity they heard from kids at school, on television, and the signs that appeared in their neighborhood.  This book is such an honest and raw portrayal of one such loving and resilient family.  I highly recommend this book.  There are loving families everywhere that are not typical.  There are families with two Dads, or two Moms.  There are also families with single parents, and families where grandparents and aunts and uncles are raising the children.  They share one thing in common — love.

Why I like this book:  Based on a true story, Cynthia Chin-Lee has captivated the difficulties that children face living in a same-sex marriage family.  Lea Lyon’s illustrations are colorful, bold and evoke the emotion of the story.   What I found interesting was that this book involved a community.   The family depicted in the story was a member of First Presbyterian Church Palo Alto.  Cynthia invited the families and individuals from the church and from her neighborhood to come to church on a Sunday.   They all acted out the scenes from the book that happened in the church.  Lea photographed everything.  They went to Cynthia’s house to act out the rest of the book, with Lea directing and photographing.  Lea did pencil sketches of the scenes and author/publisher/illustrator worked together on the storyboard.  Lea painted (water-color) over the sketches and the team worked together to fine tune the book.  Their teamwork demonstrates how committed the author, illustrator and community were in publishing this book.   Their story was published in four Bay Area newspapers in the  Mercury News family.

Activity Resources:  Click on  What Makes a Family, and Celebrating our Own Families and Understanding Other Families.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.