Peace and Remembrance

Picture books for kids young and old

By Susan Townley

The Ottawa Public Library has an extensive collection of picture books that appeal to both younger and older readers. In the month when we recognize Remembrance Day, war and conflict are subjects that children might be discussing in school while adults ponder the same issues. Here are some recent titles, which can be found in the library’s special picture book collection.

The Eleventh Hour is a fictionalized picture book by cartoonist Jacques Goldstyn that tells the story of the last Canadian soldier to die in the First World War. Friends Jules and Jim grow up together in a small town. Jim was born just two minutes ahead of Jules and was always quicker to learn. Jules looks up to Jim, and Jim looks out for Jules. When war breaks out in Europe, Jim enlists, and Jules is right behind him. Expecting glory, they instead find the horrors of war, which author and illustrator Goldstyn does not hide. Just minutes before the armistice is signed, Jules’ habitual dawdling saves his life when Jim goes into a field first and is fatally shot. Jules’ life is haunted by the loss as he struggles to move forward. Goldstyn’s text is powerful in its spareness, and his cartoon-style illustrations successfully capture the story’s tone and mood.

Goldstyn has also illustrated a wordless picture book inspired by Amnesty International’s global Write for Rights campaign. Letters for a Prisoner reveals the story of a man and his young daughter who attend a peaceful political protest where he is arrested and thrown into solitary confinement. As the man counts the days of his confinement, a bird delivers first one and then many letters of support. Guards rip up and burn the letters, but the flood of support becomes so great that the man can escape on wings made from his many letters. The illustrations are simple and showcase Goldstyn’s political-cartoonist style. The book was originally published in French and is dedicated to imprisoned Saudi activist Raif Badawi.

Peace Train is newly published and beautifully illustrated by Canadian storyteller, writer and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. The 1970s anthem by Cat Stevens is captured in Reynolds’ colourful, psychedelic, flower-power illustrations. This is a wonderful reintroduction of the song for a young audience at a time when we could use some of Stevens’ energy and optimism. The book is dedicated to Greta Thunberg, all the children of this beautiful world, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and all the creative “Peace Cats.”

Creatively and cleverly illustrated, The Hawk and the Dove by the late Paul Kor dares us to imagine peace and challenges us to see how close peace and war really are to each other.  Quarrelsome Hawk tires of conflict and changes himself into peaceful Dove, and that changes leads to other as the pages turn – tanks are replaced by tractors, guns shoot bouquets of flowers instead of bullets. Kor uses papercuts and a balance of full pages and half pages to illustrate how quickly a story can change. The Dove and the Hawk is published posthumously as Kor envisioned it, a beautiful and powerful message of hope to be shared.

Global Conflict by Louise Spilsbury and Hanane Kai offers gentle explanations and illustrations to answer childrens’ challenging questions about why our world is so often in conflict. The book provides some general definitions of war and terrorism that are simplified and easy for young children to understand. For example, terrorists are described as people who feel badly treated or disagree with others’ beliefs. The text discourages fear and encourages kids to rely on people trained to find common ground with others when there is conflict. The soft artwork and age-appropriate language make this an accessible picture book for young children to explore a difficult subject.

Finally, a charming true tale of a goat’s adventure from the prairies of Saskatchewan to the trenches of France during the First World War. Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War, by Mireille Messier and Kass Reich, is a charming tale of a mischievous goat who becomes the mascot of the Fifth Canadian Battalion. Despite the objections of the battalion’s colonel, Billy is smuggled aboard a ship to England and brought to France. He does well in the trenches, eating scraps, terrorizing rats and comforting the soldiers. Morale hits an all-time low when Billy is jailed for eating secret documents, but he is eventually released and promoted to sergeant when the colonel realizes how important he is to the troops. When the war ends, he returns to Saskatchewan as a hero. The plot is quick paced and filled with twists and turns; the art is clear and charming.

All these titles can be found at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

Susan Townley loves to sing, dance and have fun every day in the Children’s Department at the Sunnyside Branch Library.

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