War is Over
David Almond, Author
David Litchfield, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 12, 2020
Suitable for ages: 9-12
Themes: Children, Effects of War, Women, WW I effort, Homefront, Community
It’s 1918, and war is everywhere. John’s father is fighting in the trenches far away in France, while his mother works in a menacing munitions factory just along the road. His teacher says that John is fighting, too, that he is at war with enemy children in Germany. But John struggles. “I am a child. How can I be at war?”
One day, in the wild woods outside town, John has an impossible moment: a dreamlike meeting with a German boy named Jan. John catches a glimpse of a better world, in which children like Jan and himself can one day scatter the seeds of peace.
David Almond brings his ineffable sensibility to a poignant tale of the effects of war on children, interwoven with David Litchfield’s gorgeous black-and-white illustrations.
What I like about this book:
David Almond’s short novel, War is Over, is a both a poignant and sensitive novel. It explores the emotions of a boy and the attitudes of his community about war and peace. This novel raises many questions for readers and is a timely discussion topic in classrooms.
John is conflicted about the war. His father has been gone so long that he can’t remember what he looks like. He just wants the war over. So he writes letters to the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury and asks them when the war will end — no answers.
The book addresses the impact of the war on the homefront. There is fear and hatred for the Germans that carries over into the classroom. Especially when the teacher tells his students “they are children at war” and makes John and his classmates march like soldiers as they go on an outing to visit the munitions factory, where most of their mothers work making bombs. Some of the boys play war after school, but not John.
John and his classmates encounter a friend’s Uncle Gordon, who is ridiculed because he’s a conscientious objector. Uncle Gordon traveled to Germany before the war, and has a fist full of drawings of young German children. He impresses upon the students that “children aren’t monsters and are children like you.” John manages to snatch a picture of a boy named “Jan from Düsseldorf.” He writes Jan a friendly letter. He dreams of Jan and a better world. He imagines seeing Jan in the forest, which becomes a coping mechanism for John until the war ends.
Almond’s lyrical text meanders around the beautiful pen and ink drawings by David Litchfield, which fill every page. Doves fly above and turn into falling bombs and tears turn into shrapnel. His artwork shows the starkness of the factory as shifts begin and end and women make their way home. A somber topic, but presented so sympathetically and poetically.
David Almond is the acclaimed author of many award-winning novels for children, including Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, and My Name is Mina. David Almond’s books are beloved all over the world, and in 2010 he was the recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in England.
*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.