War Is Over

Written by David Almond
Review by Kristen McDermott

How does a child who has known only war begin to envision peace? This short, poignant story for young readers presents a boy named John who lives in the shadow of a Yorkshire munitions factory in the last year of World War I. A school trip to the factory introduces the reader to the pro-war rhetoric and anti-German xenophobia fed tirelessly to the citizens of England throughout those years, and the efforts by conscientious objectors to humanize the enemy and end the endless war. This is heavy stuff for a children’s book, but Almond, one of the elder statesmen of children’s literature in England, has always excelled at situating harsh realities about poverty, violence, and inequality in lyrical depictions of the natural world and the devotion of children to their friends and family.

John lives in constant worry for his mother, whose work in the factory he knows to be dangerous, and for his father, a soldier overseas. He has begun to question the adults’ promises that the war will end soon. His emotions are reflected in Litchfield’s grayscale illustrations, which alternate images of battle with images of trees, seeds, and the peaceful Northern landscape. Given a photo of a German boy named Jan, John begins to vividly dream of the devastation caused by the bombs his mother makes and of joyful play with his parents, nature, and Jan. These sustain him through the harrowing last months of war and fear and help him empathize with his traumatized post-Armistice friends and family. From a child’s point of view, war, stripped of its political and economic cause and imagined simply as a matter of hate, fear, and aggression, becomes a very simple thing, and peace a very necessary dream.

This book might seem melancholy for its intended readers (aged 7-12) but would be a lovely reading-together experience for parents and children.