Tag Archives: social activism

PPBF – The Day War Came

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:

9781406376326Title: 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

Opening:

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.

Brief Synopsis:

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.9781406376326_INS_3-1024x430

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.

See more of Rebecca Cobb’s work here, and read an insightful interview with Cobb about the process of illustrating The Day War Came at Library Mice.

Walker Books is donating one pound from the sale of each book to helprefugees.org.

If you live in the US, The Day War Came is available now via The Book Depository, or Candlewick Press is publishing it in the US in September 2018.

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!

PPBF – The Streets Are Free

As students across the United States mobilize to rally support for gun control legislation, I’ve been encouraged to read books that celebrate social activism among children and young people. I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in Canada, although its first publication was in Venezuela, a country from which I have seen very few picture books. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did!

streetsrevisedTitle: The Streets Are Free

Written By: Kurusa

Illustrated By: Monika Doppert

Translated By: Karen Englander

Publisher/date:  Annick Press Ltd./1995 (originally published by Edicones Ekaré/Banco del Libro as La Calle es Libre/1981)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: social activism; Venezuela; playground; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

Not very long ago, when Carlito’s grandfather was a boy, mountain lions roamed the hills of Venezuela.

One particular mountain was covered with forests and bushes, small creeks and dirt paths. Every morning the mist would reach down and touch the flowers and the butterflies.

Brief Synopsis: When a barrio outside Caracas becomes too congested and there is nowhere for the children to play, the children try convincing the mayor and then they ask the community to work together to build a playground.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Venezuela, the setting of this story;
  • The children in the story work together to design a playground. What would you include in a playground if you were building a new one? Draw a map of your ideal playground;
  • Is there something at home or at your school that you don’t like or think should be changed? Think about how you can convince your teachers or family to do what you’d like done.

Why I Like this Book:

The Streets Are Free is an inspiring story of children who band together to build a playground in the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela. As Caracas grew, open lands and streams disappeared, replaced by busy streets, crowded buildings and sewers that were unfit spaces for the children to play.

When a group of children discovered an unused lot, they discussed the playground among themselves during an after-school library program and then asked the city government to build the playground. When the politicians didn’t follow through on their promises, the children pestered and prodded their families and neighbors to build it themselves without government help.

Facets of the story that I found most interesting to discuss in a classroom or as a family include the role of the media in spurring the mayor to action, initially; the necessity of persistence to finally solve the problem and achieve a goal; the role of community spaces, like libraries, and helpers, like librarians, to facilitate social change; and the differences between the families who live in the barrio and the politicians who have the power to enact the changes.

Lovely watercolor illustrations bring the barrio to life, especially as the bleaker aspects of barrio life appear in black and white illustrations.

A Note about Craft:

Not only is The Streets Are Free based on a true story, but the problem the children face, and solve, is one with kid-centric stakes: a safe place to play. When thinking about writing books about concepts like social activism, I think it’s important to target the activity to something that’s generally something kids can understand. What’s more understandable for kids than the desire for a playground?

As this is an older book, written for a different market, the text is longer than the current norm and the story begins with information about the lost rural lands that have been replaced by the barrio. I think if someone were to rewrite this story today, the opening would focus on the kids and their problem at the outset, and the information in the current first four pages would be condensed into back matter. Interestingly, too, this book is longer than the norm, at 48 pages.

According to a review I read on Vamos A Leer, Kurusa is the pseudonym of a Venezuelan anthropologist and editor.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!