by Deborah Wandal
It's ironic that the War in Iraq comes in the third year of the United Nation's Decade to Promote the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the World's Children. While the regime of Saddam Hussein may now have toppled, the conflict hasn't yet drawn to a close. Afghanistan is still reeling from the fall of the Taliban and the attacks that followed September 11th in the War Against Terrorism. When will peace come to the Middle East? It's important to talk to children and young people about these international conflicts, to create a safe place for dialogue so as to help them understand what is happening in the world. Children's books can often offer young readers a place to begin asking questionsłthrough books they have a chance to see young people like themselves coming to terms with overwhelmingly difficult or desperate situations. Here are some recent titles that provide unique perspectives on the lives of children caught up in conflicts past and present.
A Brave Soldier is written and illustrated by a man who grew up in northern France, surrounded by countryside that continues to give up the remnants and ghosts of the World War I battles fought upon its soil. The big reasons for war are not explored or rationalized in this book. Instead, the story challenges us to consider the very ordinary, human dimensions of war, beneath the noise of ideological rhetoric. Debon has patterned the book's inside cover papers with repeating arrangements of six different figures, each mounted on a stand, representing medics, nurses, German and British soldiers, guns poisedłthe sort that boys have played with for decades, emblems of the adventure and excitement of war gamesłand which immediately connects readers łyoung and oldłto a commonplace and 'safe' image of war. Debon then proceeds to undermine our sense of comfort. He brings one of these figures "to life" on the title page, and this image becomes the slight, blankfaced everyman, Frank, whose story is told here. Frank's experiences give us more than just an interesting history lesson. Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Canadian Landmines Association, reminding us of the ongoing tragic consequences of war around the world.