War is Over by David Almond and illustrated by David Litchfield

From the author of Skellig.

‘Outside the dream, the war went on…’

Wow! What a gorgeous, uplifting, sad and poignant book all rolled into one. David Almond wrote this book to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World War and he has done an absolutely masterful job. War is Over is aimed at 9-11 year olds but I would extend this to 8-12 at least. It is accessible and engaging – children will love it.

When the story begins, John’s father is away fighting in France and his mum works at the nearby munitions factory – ‘the biggest munitions factory in the world’ – where warships, guns, bombs and shells are made. John can barely remember life before the war and hears about the devastation on a daily basis when fathers of his friends are killed. He realises that he can barely remember what his own father looks like. This first part of the book is quiet and sad. The illustrations are grey, black and cold.

Mr McTavish, John’s Headteacher tells him and the other pupils that they are all at war with Germany – even John – and describes a local man, Gordon, as a coward and a traitor as he refuses to fight. When Gordon is hurt, for refusing to hurt others, and the children hear his screams of pain, the reader gets a glimpse through John’s eyes of just how confusing and barbaric the situation is. John’s questioning, peaceful character is contrasted vividly with that of Alec, who plays at killing Germans and finds the trip to the munitions factory the height of excitement.

There follows an incredible moment. In the nearby woods, John comes face to face with Jan, a German boy from Dusseldorf. He later re-visits Jan in his dreams and finally, writes to him, to explain that he doesn’t feel as though he is at war with him. His letter is found and he is branded a traitor which leads him to ask some very difficult questions of his mum.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so will just say that it is a very satisfying one. The mood entirely changes and I was left hopeful, perhaps with a little tear in my eye…

‘When the end came, it happened fast.’

Please don’t buy this on kindle – I urge you to go for the hardback or paperback versions, in order to fully appreciate David Litchfield’s stunning illustrations and to allow you to share them with the little people in your life.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Candlewick Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.