August 15, 2016

What Is It Good For?

War is a tough, but important topic to talk about, let along write about for children. There are a handful of writers and illustrators who handle the topic exceptionally well, using the text and images to explore the innately cyclical nature of war and the oftentimes pointless battles we fight.

David McKee actually has two books that deal with the subject: Six Men and The Conquerors.


Six Men captures the story of six men who set out to create their own independent village, but struggle with balancing peace and expansion. 

The simple black-and-white ink illustrations are a fascinating contrast to the concept of war, which is anything but black-and-white. The more intense things get in the story, the more texture and patterning McKee adds to the images, highlighting the complicated nature of war.

The Conquerors, which features similar moral questions about war, is significantly more colorful in illustration and more light-hearted in tone. 

A ruler conquers all of his neighboring cities except one, a jovial, village that refuses to subjugate. But the weirdest part is, every time the king sends a group of soldiers to take the village, the soldiers end up falling in love with the peaceful village and joining them instead.

The endless killing proves to be completely unnecessary and ineffective in this story, showing the raw power of freedom and the general desire for peace among civilians.

The war in Olivier Tallec's Waterloo and Trafalgar is more of a cold war. 

The two characters--one blue, one orange--watch each other all day long on orders from their superiors, each suspicious of the other, neither making the first move. 

The design is pretty spectacular, using complimentary colors to emphasize the contrasting nature of the two soldiers. 

And yet, as we read through the book we see how eerily similar the two soldiers are, each trying to take care of himself in the best way he knows how. It puts an interesting emphasis on blindly following orders and how soldiers on both sides of any war are often very similar.

Lastly, The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch is a poignant example of a war book, particularly because there are actually two different versions, an "older reader" (left) and a "younger reader" (right).


Like Waterloo and Trafalgar, The Enemy focuses on a soldier in the trenches of war who has orders to keep an eye on an enemy soldier he's never met. 

Day after miserable day, the soldier faithfully mans his post, and it takes him the entire book to realize that his "enemy" has similar orders--that everyone is fighting based on information they're given, not information they've found out for themselves. 

It's a stunning book with an eerie message about blindly following orders and the awful conditions we put our soldiers through, often for very little at all.

I think one of the most poignant books I've read but never been able to categorize in terms of a blog post is Shaun Tan's The Rabbits

It's an incredibly poignant and unabashed allegory about colonialism, and what happens to those who are powerless to stop the cultural and ecological destruction of their home. The story is told from an armadillo-like culture's point of view, and details how the rabbits came and slowly but surely took over the land, bringing in strange new animals, new architecture, and, eventually, war. 

The rabbits destroy the crops, take away the armadillo's children, and leave them in a barren, concrete world. The book ends with a small illustration framed in all black with one of each animal standing in the snow, facing each other with the caption, "Who will save us from the rabbits?"

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