[Published in association with Help Refugees]
Candlewick Press, 2018. Hardcover Picture book, 32 pages
It was normal day for the young girl who sits at breakfast with her family before going to school to sit in a classroom with her peers to learn about normal things. About things that explode, destroy (volcanos), transform (frogs), migrate, sing, and nest (birds) in a natural way in a natural setting.
“Then, just after lunch, war came.”
What follows is a devastation you’ll have to experience in the book. I’m curious how long it takes you to notice that she is traveling alone. What happens for you when you register how small those “shoes [that] lay empty in the sand” are.
She can’t seem to run far enough to escape war. War had followed her to the refugee camps, “It was underneath my skin, behind my eyes, and in my dreams.” So she travels into a nearby town to try to find a place war hadn’t reached. And while the city looks pristine, bountiful and intact, it becomes apparent war is far-reaching.
She comes to a school, but “war had gotten here, too,” because she is told there is no room for her, no chair for her to sit on. War continues to take from her, denying her places she is sure she’ll find healing.
And then something happens that will not surprise you.
I’m not sure how to read the optimism here, but I appreciate the hope it inspires and the model it provides. And I like the chair, the offering of a seat, as a simple of acceptance and an extension of resource. I like it because it reminds me of that hospitable act of offering a place at the table.
You’ll notice that the chairs on the front endpapers and first page are empty, and on the back page and endpapers they are filled.
Rebecca Cobb offers a childlike hand to illustrate a poem an adult wrote in the picture book The Day War Came. Like the poem that tells the story from a child’s point of view, the illustrations are sophisticated enough to be taken seriously. Hers is not a dismiss-able kind of childlike charm—only accessible and to remind you: Here is a child.
A child who wonders if she has a chair waiting in the places she is supposed to be safe.