Picture Book Reading Challenge Books 7, 8 & 9

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I  found three very different and moving books for the Picture Book Reading Challenge this week, which should all provoke good questions from young listeners.


Book 7  The ENEMY – a book about peace by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch


This is a book for children, or is it? about the futility of war. Uncluttered text line drawings in black, white, khaki and a hint of red render the simple message powerfully. The book has a World War I trench scenario with two enemy soldiers each in a trench following orders and the manual, which they were given at the beginning of the war, showing how the enemy are always beasts capable of killing families, pets and so on. As each soldier discovers his enemy’s empty hole and the unexpected family photos there is a glimmer of recognition of all they share in common. Both, now in each other’s foxholes, consider the possibility of calling a truce. There are some haunting double page spreads of the same night sky or pouring rain, uniting these two enemies in a common experience. An honest portrayal of war, and yet  I believe, in a way as to be accessible to a child even as young as 4. Be prepared for some great discussion when you read this book with children.



BOOK 8 Whistling Thorn by Helen Cowcher


A very sensory story full of sounds and images of the heat scorched Savannah of Africa, with its red and orange, dusty landscapes where the animals and plants live in a delicate symbiosis with each other. Rhinos and Giraffes had always enjoyed the tasty leaves of the acacia bush, but the giraffes, in particular, able to reach the topmost leaves were eating even the tiniest of acacia buds. In an effort to survive, over time the acacia bushes developed sharp thorns shaped like galls. Ants attracted to the acacia nectar  came, and making holes in the galls, established their nests. The Savannah wind “piped through the holes like the music of a thousand flutes.” Thus the stinging ants protect the acacias from any overeating on the part of the giraffes, who manage only a few buds at a time before retreating from the irritated ants.  There are some glorious close-ups of the giraffe’s eyes and muzzle amidst the thorny bushes. This is an evocative tale of survival in Africa.


Book 9 The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Tsatsuro Kiuchi


A story of history, of war, of refugees and a lotus seed, a treasured memory from Vietnam. This is a simple, easy to follow story told in lyrical, unrhymed verse of a Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee her homeland due to civil war and takes with her a lotus seed from the emperor’s garden. She and her family, through hard work and willingness, adapt to the totally new way of life in the USA, yet without losing their cultural roots. The little girl becomes an old lady and is devastated one day to discover her lotus seed has been stolen by her grandson, who has no recollection in which part of the muddy garden he buried the seed. But no circumstances, however horrendous, can prevent the family passing on its heritage to the next generation and the faithful lotus seed dutifully blossoms the next spring producing new seeds to be gathered and treasured and passed on. The Illustrations in oil are beautiful especially of the lotus flowers!  I appreciated a brief historical overview of Vietnam, which the author adds at the end of the book. This is a charming story in itself, but also a great opportunity to discuss refugees etc with children.

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4 Responses to Picture Book Reading Challenge Books 7, 8 & 9

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    I really enjoyed the picture books you selected. I don’t believe it’s too early to discuss war, refugees and survival of animals with children. They see it on television every day. They have questions. They lose family members to war. In the past, there has been such an emphasis on one side is good and the other bad — and “The Enemy” dispels that myth and shows that both sides have families. Perhaps such books will teach future generations of children no one wins in war — we are all part of a human famly.

    I know in American kids are watching this week on TV young dead and stillborn dolphins washing up on the Gulf shores — all conceived around the time of the oil spill. Although the verdict isn’t definite. Children are sensitive to such happenings. “Whistling Thorn” really talks about survival for animals and opens discussion for parents. I always hope if a book inspires one child to act later in life, it’s worth it.

    “The Lotus Seed” sounds like a treasure. We’re becoming such a multi-cultural society and it’s important for kids to understand different cultures and their roots of someone who may seem different. There was a study done and children in the U.S. don’t know the stories of their grandparents. A book like this could prompt a discussion of their own family roots.

    Nice selection of books Joanna.

  2. Joanna says:


    I thought of you as I was writing these reviews, as I knew they would be books you would appreciate. Indeed I did wonder if you were already aware of “The Enemy”, with your deep interest in promoting peace?

    I suspect these are not stories that are going to have mass followings like some better known picture books, but as you point out, if in the telling, these stories inspire a handful of children around the world to become more sensitive to these issues, then they they have served a great purpose.

    I have been following, with sadness, the fate of those young dolphins. I agree, why should young children not be exposed to these issues through books, read with an adult, giving the opportunity for discussion, which is not always the case with television?

  3. These books sound so powerfully moving. Oh my. Even the choice of colors in the first one seems so very appropriate. As both you and Pat have pointed out, they would be so good as ways to begin talking with children about these issues.

    I’ve just checked our library’s online system, and although there are copies elsewhere in the province, none of the branch libraries in my city have any of these books. I’m starting to get very frustrated with my library!

  4. Joanna says:

    I know I am coming up against limitations in my library too. I was so surprised we didn’t have any of Kate McMullan’s books. Though I don’t buy many books I ordered 2 books from the US on Jan 17th, books which I couldn’t find here and I still haven’t received them…. they say it can take up to 45 working days 🙁

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