Tomorrow is ANZAC day. We all have different perspectives about war and the special days set aside as a time of remembrance. But no matter what your views, at some point you will be asked some fairly tough questions by your ever curious children. So how do you explain something as complex as war, let alone remembrance days and memorials, to children who are really too young to understand the complexities? As a primary school teacher I don’t think you can go wrong with picture books.
Here are a few that I recommend, although this is by no means a definitive list!
(Please note that the links provided are affiliate links. By purchasing the books through these links, you are helping support my picture book addiction, as well as providing me with the opportunity to review more picture books for you!)
Memorial by Gary Crew
If you have never read one of Gary Crew’s books, now is a great time to start. He is one of my favourite authors, particularly for older primary school children. The book is illustrated by Shaun Tan, possibly my most favourite illustrator of all time. This book is as much of a work of art as a picture book. The story is about a tree planted by a war memorial monument in a small country town, that over time becomes so large that it begins to dislodge the statue and be a hazard. The council needs to make a decision about cutting it down. The story is a collection of different family members memories of things that happened to them near this particular tree.
A Day to Remember by Jackie French
Again, another author you should be familiar with. Jackie French has written many books and is truly one of Australia’s great authors, particularly her books written for children on Australian history. Jackie makes history ‘come alive’! She expertly explains how we can remember those soldiers who died, without glorifying the fighting.
Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood
Retells the story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey, Duffy. A story well known to many Australians. Together they rescued over 300 men during the Gallipoli campaign. This book has won a variety of awards, with good reason.
Why Are They Marching Daddy compiled by Di Burke.
A great book for young children and was the work of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland in an effort to explain the meaning of the march and ANZAC Day commemoration. This book tells the story of Madi who accompanies her dad to an ANZAC day march. The story is told through the questions and answers between these two family members. Written specifically for younger primary school children and a great place to start if you have an inquisitive youngster.
In Flanders Field by Norman Jorgensen
Early on Christmas morning the guns stop firing. A young soldier looks out over a trench, into no-man’s land, and sees a robin trapped in the barbed wire. This book looks at the senselessness of war through the story of young homesick soldier and his effort to save a robin, caught in the barbed wire that separates the two opposing sides.
The Enemy by Davide Cali
This is one of my favourite picture books. This book is truly one for adults and children alike. Better for latter primary school aged children and beyond. One of the great things about this book is that it could be set in any war. The pictures utilise simple line drawings, collage and an expert use of white space to explore the many issues associated with war – from propaganda, the nature of hate and how wars stop (or don’t). It is just brilliant. Don’t forget to pay close attention to the inside cover of both the front and back of the book.
My Dog by John Heffernan
This book is one that will bring tears to your eyes. Better left for older primary school aged children and beyond. It tells the story of a young boy Alija whose village, in the former Yugoslavia, has been taken over by the army. Alija takes comfort in the companionship of a dog, as he begins his long journey as a refugee. Some of the moments that will bring tears (to give you an indication of who your potential audience should be) are when he loses the member of his family, some of his travelling companions and the cruelness of the soldiers he encounters on his journey (the books takes a beginning look at the idea of ethnic cleansing). This is not a book that has a Disney ending, but one that is definitely worth the read – once you feel your children are ready for the a child version of the realities of war. After all, the atrocities of war happen to children too.
Angel of Kokoda by Mark Wilson
Kari, a free-spirited mountain boy, doesn’t know why there is fighting in the village of Kokoda. But when he finds a wounded Australian soldier lying in a ditch, he knows he cannot leave him. Together they embark upon a perilous journey along the Kokoda Track…