War Is Over by David Almond and David Litchfield

The Blurb On The Back:

”I am just a child,” says John.  “How can I be at war?”

It’s 1918, and war is everywhere.  John’s dad is fighting in the trenches far away in France. His mum works in the munitions factory just along the road.  His teacher says that John is fighting too, that he is at war with enemy children in Germany.

One day, in the wild woods outside town, John has an impossible moment: a meeting with a German boy named Jan.

John catches a glimpse of a better world, in which children like Jan and himself can come together, and scatter the seeds of peace. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 1918 and the Great War rumbles on.  John lives in the north east of England with his mum, who works in the local munitions factory who packs shells with shrapnel while John’s father is off fighting at the Front.

Mr McTavish, the head teacher at John’s school, tells his students that they’re all fighting the Germans too and that they should view German children as their enemy.  Some of John’s classmates like Alec love the idea of killing Germans and can’t wait until they’re grown up and can go off to fight.  But John doesn’t want to fight German children.  He just wants to know when the war will be over.

And then one day – quite impossibly – while he is sitting around a fire near the woods outside the town with his friends and Gordon, a conscientious objector to the War, John has a vision of a German child called Jan and he realises that he doesn’t want to be at war at all …

David Almond’s historical novel for children aged 9+ has a sparse plot told with a dreamy magical realist quality that highlights the brutality of war and the damage that it wrecks on those subjected to its jingoism and which is sympathetically illustrated by David Litchfield who brings Almond’s themes to life with beauty and sensitivity.

There isn’t a huge amount of plot here, but Almond is one of those rare writers who can convey a lot with just a couple of sentences while also skirting the sentimentality that risks cropping up in given the subject matter (especially in the scenes where John sees Jan).  He’s ably assisted here by David Litchfield whose gorgeous illustrations elevate both character and story and add a great deal to the magical realist elements when John has his visions of Jan.

John himself is a sensitive boy who is anxious about what is being done in the war and especially the work that his mother does because he knows that somewhere in Germany, the same kind of shells are being built to be used against his dad.  Where Almond is strong is in showing the power of the jingoism about war and patriotism and how those in authority bully and threaten anyone who challenges or questions it.  One of the most powerful scenes in the book is where Gordon, a conscientious objector reviled by the town is beaten by John’s classmates and his niece fails to speak up for him.

There is a real sense of sadness that pervades the book – not least because notwithstanding John’s desire for peace and the relief that comes when the War finally ends, the reader knows that a second, more deadly war is in John’s future.  This sadness also works to undercut the sentimentality of John and Jan’s encounters and John’s desire for peace with the German children.

All in all, I thought this was a beautifully worked book and one that children and adults would get a lot from.

WAR IS OVER was released in the United Kingdom on 1st November 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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