Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

War and Peace

War and peace are very much in the public consciousness nowadays and it’s no surprise, therefore, that many of the excellent books published this past year touch on these themes.  Here are some of the most prominent ones, organized thematically and viewed through the Newbery lens. 
We’ve already mentioned A SAVAGE THUNDER by Jim Murphy, but RIOT by Walter Dean Myers takes us away from the madness of the battlefield to the festering civil unrestthe race and class tensions–in New York City that results in the Draft Riots.  The screenplay format will be challenging to child readers.  While I personally like this format, Julius Lester’s DAY OF TEARS sets the standard, and RIOT doesn’t quite approach that level of distinction. 
Likewise, we’ve mentioned TRUCE by Jim Murphy, but not CROSSING STONES by Helen Frost, a verse novel with an ensemble cast which features one character who leaves to fight in the war and another who remains at home, outspoken in her opposition.  Like RIOT, this is a young adult novel with appeal to older children.  It‘s not a book that you’d typically associate with the Newbery, but then again neither was THE SURRENDER TREE.
LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld is a completely different treatment of World War I, an alternative history coupled with the antiquated and futuristic elements that define the steampunk subgenre of science fiction.  This book skews younger than Westerfeld’s typical YA fare, the writing and the world-building represent the author at his best, and this is the first book in the series.  All those favors work for the book.  What works against it is the slow beginning, the long page count, and the abrupt cliffhanger ending.     
We‘ve already mentioned TROPICAL SECRETS, notable for its different perspective–Holocaust refugees in Cuba–if not for its literary distinction.  Another interesting WWII perspective that has escaped mention–and probably has a better shot at Newbery recognition–is WAR GAMES in which Audrey Couloumbis fictionalizes the boyhood story of her husband, Akila Couloumbis.  The setting–Nazi-occupied Greece during World War II–is fully realized while the family dynamic plays out against the backdrop of larger political events.   
In ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann Burg, an adopted Vietnamese-American boy assimilates into American culture even as he is haunted by the war in his past: "We did not talk about / the American War, / how tanks lumbered / in the roads / like drunken elephants, / and bombs fell / from the sky / like dead crows."  Like CROSSING STONES and TROPICAL SECRETS, this is a verse novelprobably the one with the best chance of Newbery recognition.   
Jacqueline Woodson is on quite a roll, earning three Newbery Honors in four years.  Lonnie is one of her more endearing characters and when he returns in PEACE, LOCOMOTION one of the things on his mind is his foster brother who has just returned home from the fighting in Iraq.
Brother, a sensitive young boy from the sheepherding country of eastern Oregon, also has family committed to the conflict in Iraq and it worries him just as much.  Rosanne Parry tells his story in the quiet, but memorable HEART OF A SHEPHERD.

None of the aformentioned books strike me as the Medal winner.  The one with the best chance at an Honor is HEART OF A SHEPHERD, but all of them are worthy of discussion, if not serious consideration.     

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I enjoy a lot of Walter Dean Myers novels but Riot just didn’t work for me.

    I was excited when I heard Riot, since its only the second YA book that I know of that mentions the NYC Draft Riots.

    The first being A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott, which I loved.

    I was looking forward to comparing the two books as it relates to the Draft Riots.

    As far as the Newbery is concerned have you considered Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown. Its set during the Civil War.

    Not many people are talking about it. Though the little I’ve heard has all been praise.

    I am looking forward to reading Black Angels this week.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Doret, I, too, am a big Walter Dean Myers fan, but I likewise found RIOT a disappointment.

    I haven’t read BLACK ANGELS, but the description is interesting and the cover striking. Let us know what you think when you finish reading it.

    Have you read FLYGIRL by Sherri Smith? It’s the story of a young African American woman who passes as white to be a female pilot, therefore freeing up male pilots for WWII combat.

  3. Yes, I really enjoyed Flygirl.

    Read a wonderful biography this year – Sky High The true Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Gee.

    Maggie Gee was one of only two Chinese Women to serve in WASP during WWII.

    Also, I loved Mare’s War by Tanita Davis. On a road trip, a grandmother tells her granddaughters about her time serving in Women’s Army Corp, during WWII

    I started Black Angels. So far so good. I really like the characters.

    I always believe that a character is only as young as their situation will allow them to be. A child growing up during a war must be more mature. All three of have a level of maturity but at the same time they are still children.

    Linda Beatrice Brown was interviewed earlier in the year at The Brown Bookshelf

  4. Day of the Pelican by Paterson is another good war book to consider. A family in the Kosovo War, and it ties in to the aftermath of 9-1-1 too.

  5. the Brain Lair says:

    Loved Crossing Stones and of the three verse novels I thought it was the best. The voices were vivid and realistic. I alternated between liking and disliking Day of the Pelican bcuz Paterson’s voice kept creeping into the narrative and distracting me. I thought Heart of a Shepherd was beautiful but predictable and Tropical Secrets voice changes was a little jarring.

    What about Born to Fly by Ferrari?

  6. I finished Black Angels. The book has a great premise and I thought the beginning was good. Though it lost me early on.

    I thought Day of the Pelican was a good. Though I don’t think it stands out enough.

Speak Your Mind