War is over by David Almond
Ill. by David Litchfield. Hodder, 2018. ISBN 9781444946574
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: War, Peace, Conscientious objectors. As one would expect from an author of the calibre of David Almond, War is over is a lyrical and confronting story set in 1918. On the back cover it states 'This beautifully illustrated, moving story commemorates the hundred-year anniversary of the end of the First World War.' Although the reader might expect a story glorifying war, Almond has instead melded together many complex issues about the nature of war, with the dream of peace being the over-riding theme.
'I am just a child,' says John. 'How can I be at war?' John's mother works in a munitions factory putting shrapnel into shells; his father is fighting in the trenches in France and his teacher, a most unpleasant character, insists that the children too are fighting a war. But there is a man, Dorothy's Uncle Gordon, who has been forced to live in the woods and who doesn't believe in the war and insists that the children in Germany are just like the children where John lives. John has a strange moment when he glimpses a German boy, Jan, from Dusseldorf and begins to realise that the German children are not his enemy.
Beautifully illustrated in black and white and tones of grey, the munitions factory rears out against a stark background, shells stand in dangerous rows and then are exploded sending soldiers skywards with the blast. The white feather from Uncle Gordon stands out, white against a black page, and in the final pages the reader is given a sense of hope with a light grey background as seeds of peace are scattered by John across the German earth.
Although at first glance this short (117 pages) illustrated book may appear to be for a young audience, the complexity of the themes and message make it a book that a teacher or caregiver may need to read with children. It will certainly engender much conversation about the nature of war, nationalism and hate.