The Day War Came

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Day War Came Book Poster Image
Poignant but haunting story of child refugee offers hope.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Introduction to war and its effects: explosions, noise, smoke, destruction, loss of life. Information about refugees and ways they travel: by foot, truck, bus, boat. Refugee camps pictured. In school, the kids learn that tadpoles develop into frogs.

Positive Messages

We can be kind and welcome refugees who are fleeing war-torn lands. There are ways to include refugees in our communities. When there's trouble, there are often people who'll reach out to help. Dedicated "to children who are lost and alone, and to those who help them."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The girl narrator is brave, setting off by herself in a stream of other refugees. When she reaches the refugee camp, she wanders off to the nearby town in hopes of finding normalcy. The boy from the school is kind and openhearted and reaches out. With his classmates, he provides a way for her and the other refugee children to join the school.

Violence & Scariness

The war arrives with smoke, fire, noise. Explosions bring down the roof of the school, turn the town to rubble. The girl's house is destroyed, as is her family. She flees alone on foot, in a truck, on a boat. Tiny shoes wash up on the sand, implying a child drowned.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Day War Came, by Nicola Davies and illustrator Rebecca Cobb, was published in association with the organization Help Refugees. British author Davies conceived the book in 2016 when the United Kingdom refused refuge to 3,000 unaccompanied children. The story of a young girl fleeing war is told clearly and simply, in ways kids can understand. The girl's school, home, and town are destroyed. Descriptions of the war are graphic enough to convey what's happening, but the worst details, including loss of her family, are muted or implied, not stated outright. Ultimately, the book is hopeful, since help is offered unexpectedly when the girl arrives at a refugee camp. And since it's offered by another child, it provides the clear model that kids can be openhearted and try to help others.

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What's the story?

In THE DAY WAR CAME, a girl and her classmates are enjoying their morning when war comes "like a spattering of hail, a voice of thunder," with "smoke and fire and noise." Her town's reduced to rubble, and "I can't say the words that tell you about the blackened hole that had been my home." Now all alone, she sets off with a stream of refugees on foot, on trucks, and "on a boat that leaked and almost sank." When she arrives at a refugee camp, she wanders into the neighboring town and spies a class of kids at school. The teacher turns her away, saying there's "no chair for you to sit on." But a boy in the class follows her back to camp, bringing a chair "so you can come to school ... My friends have brought theirs, too, so all the children can come to school." The refugee children walk back to school together, "on a road lined with chairs."

Is it any good?

This moving, haunting story of a young refugee draws its power from its simplicity, as the girl herself tells her own story, observing what's happening around her in ways kids can absorb. The Day War Came is frank and heartbreaking, but gentle. Author Nicola Davies makes clear this kid is like any other. As her day begins, "My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose, and walked me to school," where she learned about volcanoes, sang a song about tadpoles, and drew a picture of a bird. Then, "war came," and her home and town are reduced to "rubble," and, though it's downplayed, she loses her family. "War took everyone. I was ragged, bloody, all alone." But when she peers in a school window near her refugee camp, she sees kids "learning all about volcanoes, and singing, and drawing birds." And a kindhearted act of welcome and inclusion from a boy in the class infuses the story with hope.

Rebecca Cobb's art is as affecting as the text. At the start, the girl is smiling, though ominous helicopters loom in the background. The scenes of war and refugee camp contrast starkly, gray and drained of color, and her journey includes images familiar from the news: people crammed into overcrowded trucks and boats. But when she wanders from the camp into the nearby town, we again see color -- bright window boxes and shops with produce -- as well as a foreshadowing glimpse of the boy who will help. This poignant and affecting book can open hearts and connect readers to a difficult subject.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the girl in The Day War Came. Before the war came, was her life at all like yours? How did you feel when she had to leave her home all alone? How did you feel when the boy at the end helped her?

  • Are there refugees or immigrants in your community? Who helps them adjust to their new lives and surroundings? Can you think of ways you might be able to help?

  • How do the pictures of the war and the refugee camp look different from the ones of the girl's home and the town? How does she feel in the dark pictures? In the brighter ones?

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