The day war came by Nicola Davies

cover image

Ill. by Rebecca Cobb. Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781406376326
(Age: all) Highly recommended. Themes; War, Refugees, Displacement, Children in war, Education. The things we take for granted are all turned upside down in this picture book showing one child's torment as she loses everything she holds dear, to war. We expect to be safe, to be housed and fed, to have access to clean water and food, and be able to go to school. But when war comes, imposing its mayhem on a small town where the children are at school, and the parents at home or at work, everything that is known and accepted is no longer the same. The town is razed to the ground, noise and dust and debris separates the girl from her peers and family, and without possessions or friends, she must follow others as they head to a place of safety. Finding a town she is shunned by the occupants. War has got to them too.  Finding a school, she asks to be let in, but war has taken hold there too, and she is rejected, the teacher saying there is no chair for her to sit on.
This heart breaking story will resonate with children when they see how so simple an excuse can be given for the child not being accepted. It symbolises the plight of refugees the world over, being rejected, or left in detention camps, allowed to live out their lives without hope. And with echoes of the 'no room at the inn' story, this is a book that will engender much discussion in the classroom.
The beautiful illustrations will haunt the reader, the wide open expressions of the children, the devastated village contrasting so explicitly with the colour and uninterrupted life of the unscathed town, the symbol of the chair. The story offers hope after the children bring along chairs for the refugee children to sit upon and the stunning endpapers begin with a double page of empty chairs, and at the end all of them filled with children, safe and learning.
An end page tells the background of the story, initiated by the UK rejection of 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in 2016, and hearing a tale of a child being refused entry to a school because there was no chair for her. Now chairs appear online supporting refugee children and their right to education.
This is a memorable and moving book. Classroom ideas are available.
Fran Knight