[Monday Reading] Portrayal of War in Picturebooks from Australia and Portugal


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

When The War Is Over (Book Depository)

Written by Jackie French Illustrated by Anne Spudvilas
Published by HarperCollins AU (2019)
ISBN:146075302X (ISBN13: 9781460753026) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I bought this picturebook when I visited Sydney as part of a university trip back in 2019. I pulled it up from my bookshelves as the world seemed to have gone mad with war (either overt or covert) insidiously creeping into people’s lives.

Written in lyrical text, each page captures a specific period in history from the WWI Armistice in 1918 to the Indonesian confrontation from 1963-1966:

to present-day peacekeeping efforts in Kasmir, Cyprus, Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti.

Each verse set in various countries ravaged by war depicts the aftermath brought about by conflict: the wisps of hope flown into the air, or what it means to get to know the soldier who came back and trying to be the father he used to be.

The most poignant image for me is the one below with its dynamism, the tension in the air, the inevitability of death coming, and the outstretched arms leading to God-knows-where.

Jackie French and Anne Spudvilas created an unforgettable book about war throughout history that did not focus so much on the specifics of each international conflict – in fact, there is no afterword providing detailed explanation about each war depicted here, which may have been intentional. The book creators highlighted instead the families torn apart, the bittersweet joy of reunion, the moments lost and stolen because of wars that have never made any sense.

War (Amazon | Book Depository)

Author José Jorge Letria Illustrator André Letria Translated by Elisa Amado
Published by Greystone Kids (2021, first published 2018) Original Title: A Guerra ISBN: 9781771647267
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about the father-and-son Portuguese book creators while I was a research fellow at the International Youth Library in Munich. When A Guerra was translated into English, I immediately got myself a copy.

The image above, while deceptively simple with just a few brushstrokes and lines, felt sinister for me: the evil creeping in the landscape, enveloping the land with its darkness and slime and skittering legs.

The text is sparse, few and far between – but powerful and direct – the darkness magnified and embodied with this faceless leader who is a representation of all tyrants and self-entitled megalomaniacs who feed on fear, discord, and undeserved adulation – pretty much an accurate description of the presumptive President of the Philippines.

War is cruel on books. Its leaders want people ignorant, dreamless, and reading only the propaganda that they provide to keep them obedient, unquestioning, and servile.

This book offers no redemption in the end – because war offers none. Just the silence of a country whose history has been erased; a country, disappeared.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 48 out of target 100

May 23, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal