Playing War – Perfect Picture Book

Playing War

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.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

47 thoughts on “Playing War – Perfect Picture Book

  1. Hi Patricia, some of these difficult subject books I wouldn’t expose my kids too yet, even a three yr old is familiar with fighting so this is a good one. Thanks! (I fixed it. :))

    • Catherine, that’s why I’m reviewing a variety of books on the subject for different ages and reading levels. We didn’t play war was as kids — it was cops and robbers in the 50s because it was a more peaceful time. I thought this book was a creative way to teach younger children.

  2. I’m glad you added this to our list, Pat. We only have one other title that even touches on war, and because of the times we live in it’s an important topic that touches many children’s lives. While a book like this is not necessarily for every family, it’s so important to have books like this available for kids to learn from. Not everyone’s experience has been the same as theirs, and some things should not be made light of.

    • Susanna, I’m happy you liked my selection. I felt it a topic to touch on and reviewed books at different reading levels. It is the world our kids live in and it is a great opportunity to discuss the subject with them. I expect a range of comments today. It would be nice to raise a generation of children who become leaders who are masters at peaceful conflict resolution.

  3. I’ll check this out and see when it might be a good fit for our son. This does seem like a great book for public libraries. We live in a military town, so I meet a lot of children whose father and mothers have served multiple tours away from home.

    • Joanna, I certainly hit the right week to run both my books about war. It is a timely subject. Brian Williams featured a rather lengthy piece on Kony last night and it is getting news attendtion. Don’t know how many know about the Kony movement.

  4. What a great selection, Pat! A very real and present subject in this day and age. Children need to have books like these. I will definitely add it to my list. You always choose beautiful titles for our list. I truly appreciate you. 🙂

    • Robyn, I wasn’t sure how people would respond. But, I liked the book right away because it shows kids learning on their own how to deal with tough issues. It is a good introduction to talking about war. I know I had grandsons who played war — and it wasn’t some my husband and I thought was a good idea. Although, when I grew up (no wars) we played copys and robbers. Our world has changed and we need to help our kids be sensitive. Thanks for your comments. You are so kind.

    • Jennifer, Am happy to know that this book may help you discuss war with your son. It is a very good book. Am glad that you enjoy my selections. I always enjoys your selections.

  5. As a mom to two boys, I am amazed at how young they start playing with “guns” and fighting wars. My boys only watch PBSKids and don’t play video games, yet they make guns out of drinking straws, magnetoes and sticks. It’s nice to have a resource for the day they start to understand what war really means.

    • Kirsten, it is interesting that you don’t expose them to war, but it’s all around them. Our grandsons played war until about ag 12 yrs. One went to war. My husband and I didn’t believe in guns, so we didn’t allow them. But just look at the paintball (?) games – same thing. I didn’t play war, but cops an robbers in the 1950s. Am embarrassed to say that my grandmother worked for a toy factory where they made toy cap guns. I had the best set of guns in the neighborhood. Different times. I hope you are able to get the book and share it with your sons. It’s a great way to begin a discussion.

    • Denise, I’m glad you kept an open mind. It really is about kids wanting to play a game until the realize what their new friend has lived through, and the kids decide to support their friend. Great disucssion book.

  6. A timely book with the anti- Kony videos and pleas for help making the rounds lately. The tale of war being told by one of the boys instead of an adult gives it a weight that I don’t think it would have otherwise. Unfortunately, this is a topic that is too much of a reality in the world. This book sounds like a gentle way to initiate discussion with kids.

    • Heather, thank you for your thoughtful post. I had “Abe in Arms” and “Playing War” already planned to run this week before the Kony videos hit the social media and national news last night. This book does help you ease your kids into the discussion of war. I’m glad you liked the selection.

  7. Poor Sameer. For certain ‘difficult-to-explain-clearly’ topics, parents could perhaps use picture books like this to help their kids understand the importance of Anti-violence. I like that in this story, it’s a kid helping other kids understand this. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Claudine, So happy you liked the message and the way the story was told. It is about kids working it out, choosing a non-violent solution and friendship! Thank you for comenting.

  8. This book has a true point. Pretending to “kill” or “hurt” someone in a game isn’t fun. We don’t play like that. We play secret agents, superheroes, LEGOs, etc. but it doesn’t involve killing or hurting (maybe capture and escape). I’ll have to check out this book to learn more. Thanks for telling me about “Playing War”!

    • Erik, think this is a good book for family discussion. I like it that there are no adults involved, the kids choose a non-violent solution, and its about friendship. Breaks through a lot of barriors. Glad you liked the selection.

  9. Wow, wow, wow, Pat! I had no idea that a book like this even existed. My son’s class just read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and we were trying to discuss it at dinner with his three younger sisters and they had sooooo many questions about war and the atom bomb. I struggled with how to explain it to them. I am so happy to check out this book and hopefully find the words to talk to them in a way they can understand about war. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much Amy, I really am glad that you liked “Playing War.” It’s the first book I’ve seen. I think it would be a great book to discuss with your kids. It is a timely book.

  10. Hi Pat, since last year we have been playing around with having a war-and-peace-inspired theme in GatheringBooks. If we do decide to push through with that idea this year, we shall definitely include this in our selection. Sounds like a really powerful book.

  11. An interesting book and review Pat. We here have also seen on tv the Kony movement. Your choice is very timely. It is when we see or hear of war that although we live on an island on the other side of the world, the world can seem a very small place and war so close. Thankyou for sharing Pat.

    • Diane, my selection of books this last week turned out to be very timely. Glad the Kony movement is spreading worldwide. It does seem smaller, when I think about all of you I communicate with daily on the other side of the world.

  12. Patricia, I’m so glad that you have signed up for the PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge, and that has then introduced me to your blog – I can see I will be a regular follower from now on! This is a wonderful book – we had “War, Peace and Social Justice as a theme on PaperTigers a few years ago – – and Kathy Beckwith wrote an article for us, which you may be interested to read:

    • Marjorie, I almost missed your comment as it ended up in my spam box and I caught it in time. Thank you for your very kind note. I’m looking forward to participating as I find some real gems. Funny that you know Kathy Beckwith. I was very impressed with her book. Thank you for the link to the interview. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. And, thank you for the link to papertigers.

  13. And this is why I am so passionate about picture books!!!!
    War touches the lives of many children, in one way or another. Even though it seems like a topic we might shy away from addressing with young children, it is a reality in our world. The early evening news comes on with images of our war-torn planet…do all parents send their toddlers out of the room? I don’t think so. The violence in video games is rampant. And many children live in places where armed soldiers and fighting are part of their every day landscape.
    What a wonderful way to help parents and children engage in a conversation about war and violence and fighting! Even though the recommendation is for grade 2-5, I would feel comfortable using it with younger children.
    This is a wonderful selection, Pat…thank you so much…I will add it to my “arsenel” of books. And the resources look amazing.

    • Vivian, you’re as passionate about this subject as I am. Couldn’t agree more. It is around our kids daily and it is our responsibility to discuss the subject and teach nonviolent ways. This book can be used to teach conflict resolution. It’s our children that will be the future leaders and decision-makers and we have an opportunity to have an influence. Glad you liked the selection.

  14. Pat, I am the illustrator of “Playing War” and am thrilled that you have added it to your list and written such a fine review. Thank you. I want to mention that there is a “teacher’s notes” section on the publisher’s website,
    that has excellent discussion suggestions to go with the book for parents and teachers.

    Thank you so much and I’ll keep reading your blog, now that I know about it.

    Lea Lyon

    • Lea, I was happy to review another book you illustrated. The book is an important book for parents and I was pleased with the comments and discussions. I mentioned Tilbury House on the Reach and Teach page, but will be happy to also include the link under my mention of Tilbury House. I also reviewed the book you illustrated on “Operation Marriage.” I like your method as an artist. Noticed that you used real kids in your illustrations. I’m glad you are pleased with the review. – Pat

  15. Thank you so much for this review. We tell people that there’s a story behind every product we make available on our web site and in our shop and this book is no exception. Soon after we had returned from a peacemaking delegation to Afghanistan (bringing together Americans who had lost loved ones on September 11th with Afghans who had lost loved ones in the US response), I was riding a bus in Palo Alto and two kids were talking about scenes of war they had seen in a film. One of the boys made the sound of a plane flying and dropping bombs and then the kaboom sounds. Both boys were excited by the idea of how “cool” it must be to be an Air Force bomber pilot blowing things up. I had just returned from a place so totally destroyed, and sat with people so horribly maimed, that I prayed that I could somehow, some day, find a way to talk to kids like these two without seeming to lecture them. Discovering Playing War gave me and now countless others a tool to talk about this in a way that is not preachy or lecturing.

    One afternoon, after I had discovered the book, I was on my way to a rally in front of a Congressman’s office and two kids were playing outside their house with sticks that they had turned into guns. Their moms were standing off to the side and one of them said “I don’t know what to do about him! He always wants to play shoot-em-up.” I happened to have a copy of Playing War in my briefcase, handed it to her with my card, and told her I was on my way to a peace rally. She took the book and wrote an email a few days later telling me how wonderful it was to be able to read it with her son and talk about it. Perhaps I did more to bring peace to the world by handing her that book than I did by attending the rally. Who knows?

    • Craig, I’m glad that Playing War was received so well. And, thank you for taking the time to write such an informative note. I love the back story behind people’s actions. You truly are doing a remarkable job with Reach and Teach. Funny, I signed up to participate in the Paper Tiger Reading the World Challenge this year and received a note from Marjorie about their interviewing Kathy Beckwith about Playing War a few years ago. Her comment is below. I do plan to submit one of the Reach and Teach books as one of my seven entries to the Reading the World Challenge this year. Know you’re busy, but thank you for your additional comments. They add so much to the discussion. – Pat

  16. I will try to write as tears fill my eyes – tears that come from gratitude, and from awe and happiness. I just learned of your review of PLAYING WAR this morning, Pat, and read the conversations that it has sparked. Thank you for your reflections and for the invitation to others to join you in exploring the story it tells. I am grateful that so many people have become a part of this book’s journey into the world and into the lives of kids who love to play, are curious to learn, and know the goodness of caring and friendship. That includes all of you sharing this conversation with the hunch that this picture book is somehow very important, very timely, and who want their kids and others’ kids to experience it too.

    I feel both awe and happiness for being able to “sit in the corner and listen to you talk.” What a gift! I’m glad Marjorie mentioned the article I did for PaperTigers, as it tells just how the book came to be and what my hopes were and are for it. Those hopes are being fulfilled even this very day. And, Pat, I grinned at your saying you wished you had thought about writing a book like this. Rest assured, it is part yours! And that is true for each of you pondering the role you may have in PLAYING WAR’s journey as you have written about it here. — Kathy Beckwith

    • Kathy, I am thrilled that you enjoyed the review and the discussion that took place on my website. I’m very moved by your response. I often wonder what authors think after I review their books. I always hope I captivate the essence of each story and do the book justice. I read the article Marjorie mentioned in Paper Tiger and was fascinated in how the book was came to life. It is an important and timely book. I hope it continues to do well! Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. – Pat

  17. LOL, found your entry here as I was working on mine about “Playing War”. I was a military kid, raised in the Cold War and during overseas in Europe many ‘things’ happened . . . rather strange back then for a child of 9, 10, 11, 12 and so on. Glad you could find something to HELP kids understand and make sense out of things. As you can tell from this post (, things for me were a bit . . . different. Wish I could have heard this tale as a young child; it might have helped me more. Then again: maybe not. “A Warrior’s Child” I’ve been told . .
    Anyway – sounds like a good book – and something I’ve been working on with kids for decades: War is not fun, nor noble. Heroes die. And it’s a horrible thing. And I’m glad to see someone addressing a bit of that.

    ~ an old ex-soldier, aka Marine . . . and warrior child as well.

    • Jeff, Thank you for sharing such a fascinating perspective. Wish I had a book like this. I spent many years working as a civilian in the USAF. Also lost a 20-year-old grandson two years ago. We need a new generation of kids who have more peaceful solutions. Than you for stopping. My entire month is devoted to military families.

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