Friday, December 19, 2014

Three Kids Books on War

War is a reality that mankind has experienced since the beginning of time. Sometimes, they are small and involve two warring tribes. Other times they are massive and have a global reach and impact. No matter the size, and whether the war is just or unjust, the truth is that war is ugly. Today, I will be reviewing three children's books on war. A children's book on war is a bold undertaking and seems like a reality you wouldn't want to expose to a child, but with talks of war in the news constantly and an ever present 24 hour news cycle, it's harder to shield kids from this harsh reality. These three books, while somber in tone, help humanize the people involved in war (from both sides). Without further ado, here are my reviews.

Gingerbread for Liberty! tells the story of Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American baker. The story begins by telling of the generosity of Mr. Ludwick, especially as it related to feeding hungry children. The book then quickly shifts to talk of the Revolutionary War. Ludwick is determined to fight in this war, but his wife reminds him that he is too "old and fat" to fight in the war, so he volunteered with the only skill he possessed, baking. He went to George Washington and offered his services. General Washington was so impressed with him that Ludwick became baker for the whole Continental Army. He even used his skills to persuade troops that the British hired to switch sides and fight with the Revolutionaries. The war ends and as a parting gift, Washington orders Ludwick to bake bread for the wounded enemies.

Overall, this was an interesting story, which was outshone by its illustrations. All of the images in the book, appropriately, are in gingerbread format. Other nice touches include a recipe for gingerbread cookies on the inside cover, and an author's note which sheds more details on the man who was Christopher Ludwick. The war was unkind to him, in that he lost his vision and went home poorer, because the British ransacked his home and shop. However, he kept doing what he loved (baking and feeding hungry people), and is said to have quietly paid for the education of at least 50 children. These are great facts that you wish would have been included in the story. Nevertheless, the overall message that anyone, no matter their talents, can make a difference shone through in this story. Four stars.

Shooting at the Stars begins by setting the scenes for World War I; giving facts on who was fighting who; and expectations of young men that it would be a short war. The story itself revolves around a young English soldier writing to his mother. He begins by telling her about the hardships of war, which isn't just the fighting but the conditions, such as rain, three feet of mud, and rats! He then proceeds to tell her about something remarkable, On Christmas Eve, there was snow and he heard Germans singing Christmas carols. The Germans had also put up tiny Christmas trees, which is a bad strategic move as it gives away your position. Then, on Christmas morning, the Germans called out to the English asking them where their Christmas trees were. For one day, Christmas Day, there was a truce. Germans and English shook hands, buried their dead, traded gifts, and played soccer. The major was furious, called them traitors, and ordered them to fire on the Germans. The young protagonist says he thinks for that night, the English aimed high and were shooting at the stars, hence the title of the book.

This was a phenomenal story that honestly caused me to well up while reading it. It showed a side of war that you never think of, and a special day that you wonder/doubt could ever happen again. Enemies were humanized, and you see that they are people just like us who had families and loved Christmas just like we do. The illustrations perfectly matched the book, as they were rich in color, striking in detail, and placed you perfectly in the scene for a full reading experience. There is also a helpful glossary at the end for those tricky terms that kids won't recognize. I highly recommend this book for Christmas or anytime! Five stars.

Once a Shepherd tells the story of Tom Shepherd, a young shepherd without a care in the world. It is a time of peace. He gets married and his wife becomes pregnant. However, his world is quickly turned upside down with the arrival of World War I. He must go off and fight in the war and unfortunately does not come back. In fact, the enemy soldier who kills Tom is so grief-stricken, he feels he must personally go and tell Tom's wife about his death.

My wife warned me not to get this book, and she was right. It is a very sobering tale, which I'm unsure how you read this to a child without depressing them for a week, if not longer. The writing style and illustrations also left a bit to be desired. Every page starts with the words "Once a..." and while I get that repetition is good for children, it grew tedious. The illustrations themselves aren't bad, but are what I would describe as watercolor. The dust jacket/cover of the book has a look of stitching, and if the whole book would have been illustrated this way, I would rate this book higher as that would at least be clever and on theme. Unfortunately. I can only give this book three stars, as the story is depressing and the illustrations weren't what I'd look for in a children's book.

These books were provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Abrams Books, and Candlewick Press respectively. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here, here, and or here and hit Yes!