War and Peace
December 4, 2009 by Leave a Comment
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.
THE CIVIL WAR
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 unrest—the 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.
WORLD WAR I
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.
WORLD WAR II
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.
THE VIETNAM WAR
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 novel—probably the one with the best chance of Newbery recognition.
THE WAR IN IRAQ
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.