November 17, 2017

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In the Line of Fire: Perspectives on War

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Though they focus on different historical events, represent various viewpoints, and employ an assortment of formats, all of these titles offer riveting and revealing insider perspectives of war and its devastating effects.

lilne ofLine of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Solder (Phoenix Yard, 2014; Gr 5 Up), offers a glance at the first two months of World War I from the viewpoint of a French infantryman. French author/artist Barroux came across this diary in a Paris trash heap and illustrated the words to create a unique graphic novel. Far from an overview filled with historical antecedents, political maneuvering, and power-wielding individuals, the book reveals the day-to-day experiences and concerns of a feet-on-the-ground soldier.

Straightforward entries describe marching and mustering, scrounging provisions and seeking shelter, advancing and retreating, and tedium and uncertainty. As he moves closer to the line of fire, the narrator sees families fleeing, walks through deserted villages, and observes the evidence of battle (“a soldier’s leg hanging from a branch” marks where a shell landed on and partially destroyed a platoon). The infantryman is shot in the arm, and the account ends soon after with a description of his journey to and treatment in a military hospital (“I am bored to death and my heart is heavy”). Done in scratchy charcoal lines, set against sepia backgrounds, and filled with details of time and place, the artwork’s timbre fits well with the text. The paneled illustrations effectively slow the pace of the account, allowing thoughts and images to resonate deeply with readers. Additional information is available at the book’s dedicated website along with a downloadable educator’s guide that includes discussion ideas, extension activities, and additional resources.

IrememberbeirutI Remember Beirut (2014; Gr 6 Up), Zeina Abirached’s companion to her also-autobiographical A Game for Swallows (2012, both Graphic Universe), presents a tapestry of memories about growing up in the war-torn capital during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Blending pared-down text and bold artwork, Abirached’s graphic-novel memoir provides a vivid and believably childlike perspective. Harrowing realities are seamlessly intertwined with mundane everyday moments—her mother repeatedly replacing the shell-shattered windshield on their bullet-ridden Renault; her father cranking up his classical music to drone out the chaos of airstrikes, and continuing to blast it “when the war grew quiet” to the distress of complaining neighbors; and her brother visiting just-destroyed buildings to seek objects for his prized shrapnel collection.

Universal childhood happenings, such as getting braces or a adjusting to a bad haircut, are interspersed with the necessity of keeping an emergency backpack by one’s bedside and a night spent at school when skirmishes make travel too dangerous. The elegant illustrations pair black and white color blocks with graceful lines and folk patterns; images and text work together to eloquently convey detail and emotion. For example, the many locations where the family took refuge through the years are presented as spaces on a game board, Zeina, her brother, and her parents the movable pieces. Abirached’s assemblage of memories paints an affecting picture of life under duress and the lingering effects of political conflict on the human spirit.

childrengrowingupwithwarJenny Matthews explains that she became a photojournalist in order to “document what goes on behind the frontline, and how it affects women, children, and families in their day-to-day lives.” And the images gathered in Children Growing Up with War (Candlewick, 2014; Gr 5 Up), taken in conflict zones across the globe, do just that, providing intimate glimpses at young people surviving in a world decimated by destruction, injury, poverty, fear, and loss.

The author lists the tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and asks youngsters to think about how these basic human rights are affected by conflict. Included are candid snapshots of displaced families making the best life possible in abodes cobbled together from scraps, girls pressed into arranged marriages to rescue families from poverty, youngsters maimed by land mines or brutal attacks, a group of former child soldier abductees seeking understanding and reconciliation, and other heartbreaking images. Brief paragraphs and captions outline circumstances surrounding the photos, and a map and description of the highlighted conflicts are appended. This title can initiate discussion of the numerous humanitarian crises that affect millions of children across the globe. Perhaps most memorable are the smiles and hopefulness exhibited in the photos, a testament to the resiliency of young people no matter how traumatic their circumstances.

Students can compare and contrast these distinctive viewpoints of war and its effects. How do these accounts differ in content, narrative approach, and visual style? How do the images add to the depth and meaning of the texts? Have students research one of these conflicts and discuss the differences between primary accounts and secondary sources. What do eyewitness descriptions add to our understanding of world events? What universal themes emerge from all of these books? Have students cite examples from the text to support their points. All three offerings build empathy by encouraging youngsters to put themselves in the shoes of individuals enduring challenging circumstances. Have your students research am on-going world crises and write a piece from the point of view of one of those affected.

Taken individually or grouped together, these titles can be used to incorporate numerous Common Core Standards, including the following: compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style (RL 8.5); cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (RI 8.1); write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences (W 8.3-11/12.3); and engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions…(SL 8.1-11/12.1).

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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