As regular readers know, I’ve reviewed many picture books about the refugee experience published in the past few years. For World Refugee Day earlier this week, I posted about some of the picture books I’ve reviewed about the refugee and migrant experience in the Americas. Because in some countries, refugee-focused events span an entire week (see Refugee Week 2018), I couldn’t help but continue the theme and post a newly-published book about a refugee, that is, in my mind, a Perfect Picture Book:
Title: The Day War Came
Written By: Nicola Davies
Illustrated By: Rebecca Cobb
Publisher/date: Walker Books/June 2018
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: refugees; war; empathy; social activism; free verse poetry
The day war came there were flowers on the window sill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose and walked with me to school.
When war arrives in the unnamed narrator’s town, she flees alone, but feels surrounded by war while a refugee, until the kindness of children enables her to experience some peace at last.
Links to Resources:
- Draw a chair, perhaps like a favorite one from home or school. Does your picture have anyone sitting in the chair? Which do you like better – a picture of an empty chair or one with a friend or relative sitting in it?
- The children in the narrator’s old and new schools are studying volcanos. Build a volcano;
- The children in the narrator’s old and new schools draw birds. Why do you think birds are an important part of this story? Draw a favorite bird;
- Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or to help them feel welcome in your school or community.
Why I Like this Book:
I don’t just like this book, I love it, as, in my mind, it captures the young refugee experience in its entirety. [Spoiler alert: despite reading many picture books about refugees, I cried when reading this one!]
In sparse, lyrical language, Davies captures a child’s heartbreak of being alone, of utter despair and desolation, not just as disaster strikes and rends life into a before and after, but as the young narrator searches for a new life in an unfamiliar land. Davies ends on a note of hope, not as the narrator arrives in this new country, but only when, at long last, she feels welcome there.
Several recent picture books capture the sense of loss when leaving a beloved homeland, like The Map of Good Memories. Others enable the reader to walk in the footsteps of those in flight, most notably The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. All end with hope of a new life, as in My Beautiful Birds.
What is hauntingly different with The Day War Came, is that the narrator is completely alone in her journey, with no parent, sibling, or even friend to cling to. We meet her as war obliterates her life in an instant: “war took everything, war took everyone.” We journey with her to what should be a safe place where, we’d like to believe, she will start to rebuild her life. Instead, though, she journeys and finds “war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street.” Finding a school, she yearns to enter, but an unsmiling teacher explains,
There is no room for you, you see. There is no chair for you to sit on.
Linking the narrator’s experiences as war strikes to the hatred she encounters as a refugee will, I believe, cause readers to think how their actions affect refugees who may relocate to their communities and schools. This makes The Day War Came an important and timely book for classroom, church and family discussion.
Cobb’s illustrations are often two-page spreads, and they incorporate many grays depicting war and despair, interspersed with splashes of color. Like Davies’ text, the scenes are not geographically specific, which supports the sense of universality. They also appear, at times, to be drawn by a child, furthering Davies’ storytelling from the narrator’s point of view.
A Note about Craft:
In many ways, war is almost a character in The Day War Came. I think Davies accomplishes this because, except in two instances late in the story, war appears without an article preceding it. Similar to death entering a home in Cry Heart, But Never Break, war accompanies the unnamed narrator on her journey, following her, invading her dreams, taking “possession of my heart.” That the story is told from first-person point of view and as the narrator is unnamed, bringing an “Everyman” feel to it, I think this encourages readers to think: how do my actions perpetuate war and hatred in the world? This hopefully encourages us to take the next step: to counter that hatred.
Davies utilizes several visual symbols that enable Cobb to expand on the story. In her old school, pictures of volcanos line the windows. In the new school, the children also learn about them. When war erupts, the fires in the city mimic volcanic explosions. The children at both schools draw birds – a symbol of flight. And the absence of a chair, like “no room at the inn,” resonates and provides a strong visual reminder of one step even a young child can take to welcome others. Check out the endpapers – a stunningly visual reminder of what one small action can accomplish.
Nicola Davies, an award-winning children’s author, originally published a version of The Day War Came in 2016 as a free verse poem in The Guardian newspaper, in reaction to the British government’s decision to turn 3,000 unaccompanied children away. See Davies’ blog post about writing the poem, publishing it, and the outpouring of illustrations of empty chairs that became the #3000chairs project on Twitter.
This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!