Review: The Day the War Came

The Day the War Came
Author: Nicola Davies
Illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
Candlewick Press
Ages: 6-9 years old, Grades: 1 – 4

Then, as violently and as unexpectedly as a volcanic eruption, the war comes.

It’s not often a picture book leaves me in tears, but SPOILER ALERT, this one did. Davies’ haunting text and Cobb’s evocative images are vivid and brutal; the two beautifully pair to convey the horror of war without being graphic or violent.  The incongruity of illustrating horror beautifully is not lost on me, but the seeming simplicity of this title belies its power. What appears to be “just” a children’s picture book is really an art piece that succeeds, more than any scholarly article or journalistic endeavor could succeed, in conveying the heart wrenching plight of refugees though the author’s “simple” sentences, and the illustrators “beautiful” pictures.

The child narrator begins the story starting her day at the breakfast table. She and her family eat breakfast together, and her mother walks her to school. While there, the child sings a song about tadpoles turning into frogs, draws a bird, and learns about volcanoes. 

Then, as violently and as unexpectedly as a volcanic eruption, the war comes. 

The language is spare, leaving the dark images to continue the story. The narrator is at a loss for words, saying she cannot explain to us the loss of her home. Words are, for her and for us, insufficient in the face of the atrocity of war.

All I can say is this.
War took everything.
War took everyone.
I was ragged, bloody, all alone.

From this point on, the girl is alone, leaving readers to wonder fearfully what happened to her family. The text is silent, but the pictures show us the cost of war to this one little girl. Adults reading this story aloud will need to be prepared to answer unanswerable questions from this point forward.

The little girl, now a refugee, tries to find some semblance of normality in her new existence, but it is hard, perhaps impossible.

. . . (w)ar had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.

The book’s ending offers a ray of hope, but this is a bleak and unflinching look at the devastation caused by war on a deeply personal level. While ostensibly a picture book aimed at grades 1-4, I would recommend this book for an older audience, perhaps the middle grades. Of course, war is hard to understand at any age. And yet still, we must try.

The Day the War Came (Support an Independent Bookstore)
The Day the War Came (Hardcover at Amazon)*

More books for this Age Group can be found here.

My thanks to Candlewick Press for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.

Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.

Emma GilletteContributor
Emma has been, variously, a dancer, a singer, a lawyer, a writer, and a teacher. However her best job remains mom. She has a variety of advanced degrees she doesn’t use. She lives with her husband, their three teen-aged children, her nonagenarian father, a dog, and two cats, in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she reads, writes, and plays tennis. Not all at once.

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