Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Picture Books that Deal with Modern Wars

War is a troublesome topic, and a difficult one to introduce to students. This collection of picture books deal with the issues of war today in sensitive and child-appropriate ways. Always read books like these with your particular children and students in mind when deciding if they would be a good fit.

A Child's Garden: a story of hope by Michael Foreman. This sparse picture book tells the story of a boy living in rubble on one side of a barbed wire fence who discovers a small, green shoot. His journey to protect the shoot, its later destruction by soldiers on the other side of the fence, and the eventual growth of shoots on both sides, provides a parable of modern war and border zones, with an ending plea for peace. Neither the boy's name nor his country is provided, though the illustrations seem to echo Israel-Palestine. This book could serve as a gentle entry into a discussion of conflict and inequality in our world today.

The Librarian of Basra: a true story of Iraq by Jeanette Winter and Alia's Mission: saving the books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty. These books introduce the realities of war through its impact on the library and books of Basra, Iraq and are based on the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian, who took it upon herself to hide and protect these books as war approached. The graphic novel format of Alia's Mission contains a bit more of the fear and terror of war and may be appropriate for older children.

Playing War by Kathy Beckwith and illustrated by Lea Lyon. Playing War addresses the issue of war from a different perspective - its misuse and misperception by American kids. A group of friends prepares to play a neighborhood game of war but are confused by the negative reactions of newly arrived Sameer. The students are forced to face their own ideas about war as they listen to Sameer's story about fleeing his home and the death of his family.

This book was a powerful one to share aloud with my fourth grade students, and it generated significant discussion and conversation. We had been having many issues at recess prior to this book, as a group of students had created an involved imaginary kingdom that included many different classes of people and a lot of stealing and pretend wars between the groups. While this book did not magically settle all the anger and conflicts, it did help the students better understand the broader context of their actions, and the pretend fighting aspects quickly diminished.

Several other books that deal either directly or indirectly with war were highlighted in my recent 10 for 10 post of my Top 10 Must Have Picture Books for Reading Aloud. Four Feet, Two Sandals deals with refugees from Afghanistan now living at a camp in Pakistan. Sitti's Secrets is the story of a girl who travels to Palestine and visits her Sitti (grandmother). Silent Music: a story of Baghdad focuses on the power of calligraphy during the invasion of Iraq. Click the link, Top 10 Must Have Picture Books for Reading Aloud, to read the full post with summaries of each book or click on an individual cover to go to that book's Amazon page.


  1. This is a fantastic list you have here. Most of the titles are familiar to me, but there are two that I have yet to look for in our libraries. You may also want to check out "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow" - great title to pair with "A Child's Garden. "

    1. Thanks, Myra. I have "A Place Where Sunflowers Grow" in my Japanese internment list, but you are right that it would be a good connection with "A Child's Garden," thanks!


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