War is stealthy and secretive, slithering snake-like through the countryside. War is monstrous: an army of giant insects marching towards their target.
This picture book, aimed at readers ages 9-12, packs a powerful punch from the opening pages. Striking illustrations in somber tones and sparse text help guide the reader’s exploration of this complex subject. What is war? Where does it come from and why? What is its impact on people and places?
Illustrator André Letria plays with perspective throughout the narrative. One double spread depicts a large black military boot in close-up against a khaki background, and just five words: “War saddens, crushes, and silences.” Another spread shows a street view of an impressive city with high rise buildings and tree-lined streets—and the chilling words: “War likes to rule over ruins.” Turn a couple of pages and readers will see a city (perhaps the same one) from the air, its buildings obliterated by bombs. Repeated images and patterns also feature: rows of identical soldiers in one spread; in another, hundreds of tiny bodies tumbling across the page. They are confronting, chilling. So, too is the three-page ending, with the insect army marching inexorably towards its next destination.
War is not an easy read; both its subject matter and presentation are deep, dark and distressing—and, sadly, timeless. This picture book is, however, an invaluable starting point for conversations about war between adults and children of all ages.
Illustrator André Letria won the prestigious Nami Concours prize for War. The text is by his father, respected author and journalist José Jorge Letria.
Written by José Jorge Letria
Illustrated by André Letria
Translated from Portuguese by Elisa Amado
Published by Greystone Books, 2021
Originally published in Portuguese as A Guerra in 2018.
Awards: Winner 2019 Nami Concours prize, 2022 USBBY Outstanding International Book, 2022 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Picture Book title
You can buy a copy of War here* or find it in a library.
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Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com