Kathy Beckwith, Author
Lea Lyon, Illustrator
Tilbury House Publishers, 2005, Fiction
Suitable for: Grades 2-5
Themes: Games, Children playing war, Real loss and Friendship
Opening/ Synopsis: “Too hot for basketball,” Luke said. “Let’s do something else…”I know said Jeff. “Let’s play war!” Luke stood up. “Good idea!” “What about riding bikes?” asked Jen. “No,” Jeff replied. “War’s the best! We haven’t played it for a while.” A group of five friends decide one summer day to play a game of war outside. Luke draws a line in the dirt and writes an S for soldiers on one side, and an E for enemies on the other side. They divide into teams. Jen explains the rules to Sameer, who is new to the neighborhood. Grabbing sticks for guns, and pinecones for bombs and grenades, Luke and Sameer take off as the enemies. As the game gets underway, Sameer decides he doesn’t want to play and goes home. The five friends gather to play war again the next day. Sameer again doesn’t want to play. He tells his friends that he has been in a REAL war, but they don’t believe him. Then Sameer explains that he was at school one day when his house was blown up and his family was killed. The kids are speechless. As the friends listen to Sameer’s story, they make a very important decision that day. This is a great book for the school library.
Why I like this book: I love this book for many reasons. Today children are exposed to the violence of war on TV and in movies. They have family members deployed or they know of a soldier who has been killed in a war. Playing War gives parents an opportunity to read the book aloud with their kids, talk about what is happening in the world, and discuss whether it is a good idea to make a game of war. I like that the author, Kathy Beckwith, didn’t include adults in this story. Her characters make their own decisions about whether or not to continue their game. This is a very powerful story written in very gentle and compassionate way so that kids can learn from each other. Lea Lyon’s beautiful and expressive watercolor illustrations support the emotion of the story.
Resources: Check out the Reach and Teach website for activities, resources and teacher’s notes that Tilbury House Publishers created for Playing War. Additional reading materials for parents: Diane Levin, Ph.D., is the author of two books Teaching Young Children in Violent Times and The War Play Dilemma.
Note: On March 4, I reviewed a YA book, Abe in Arms, about a child soldier, who suffers flashbacks about his life in war-torn Africa. I accidentally released the book on Sunday, so many missed it. It is a very powerful story and I hope you check it out.
To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books. Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays badge in the right sidebar.