Children’s book review: Why War is Never a Good Idea

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Jasper is a bit of a book fiend, and we tend to visit our local library branch once or twice a week. We were already doing this pre-baby, since Sean and I are also book fiends (apple…tree).

The other day, Sean and Jazz went by themselves, and returned with Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker.

Yes —the Alice Walker you’re thinking of.

Though War is Old, it has not become wise. It will not hesitate to destroy things that do not belong to it. Things very much older than itself. – Why War is Never a Good Idea

I had no idea Walker wrote children’s books (she also penned There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me), but I am beyond glad that Sean picked this particular book out. Jasper is still a little young to really grasp the concept of war (aren’t we all?), but it’s incredibly important to both of us that he is aware of as much of the world as possible as early as possible — the beautiful and the ugly. I think, regardless of your opinion of war, just about everyone will agree it falls on the ugly end of the spectrum.

While the book is technically a children’s book, I would recommend it for anyone, regardless of age, who believes with the title. I’d recommend it to people who disagree, but I’m not sure they would be swayed.

When it comes to nursing mothers it is blind; Milk, especially human, it cannot see. Picture a woman beside a window. She is blissful, singing a lullaby. A baby twirls a lock of her dark hair, suckles for all it is worth. – Why War is Never a Good Idea (p. 11-12)

The illustrations are by the immeasurably talented Stefano Vitale, who is now hands-down one of my favorite illustrators/artists, period. Each page is vibrant, lush, and filled with bold colors that help the emotion behind the words into a realized vision. It truly pains me that I can’t find photos online, because the illustrations are that important and perfect.

At fifteen months, this isn’t a book that Jasper wants to read over and over again, but he does study the illustrations while we’re going through it. He’s still in the Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb phase, but I anticipate this book will be a treasured favorite in a year or so.

Comments on Children’s book review: Why War is Never a Good Idea

  1. I’m a little curious if you ever considered what military parents’ opinions on this book/post would be. When I have to one day explain my husband’s job to our child (he’s a soldier in the military), I wouldn’t want him getting the idea that what his daddy is doing is bad, when it’s actually quite honorable. I understand the principle behind this book and admire it, but it’s just another side to consider.

    • Hey, that is totally an awesome question. My point is really more that the reasons war happens are ugly. I think that everyone can agree on that..? I could be wrong, but to me, it would be way better if there was never a reason to go to war with anyone.

      The book kind of comes from this perspective as well..she speaks of war with a capital W. She doesn’t speak of troops or why people are in battle or anything like that, just of War.

      Does that make sense?

    • I don’t mean to be rude, and I’m sorry if I come off that way…

      It seems to me that you have a few choices here:

      1. Buy the book and explain to the child that although war is wrong, sometimes our leaders choose it anyway, and that’s what Mommy/Daddy is there for, to follow our leaders’ orders (or something to that effect).

      2. Buy the book and explain to the child that this is the opinion that other people you might come across have about war, but XYZ is what WE think about it. (probably the choice that I would imagine makes the most sense for a military family? Not sure here, just guessing)

      3. Don’t buy the book for the child.

  2. My partner actually brought home this book while I was pregnant. 🙂 I am an academic whose work is focused in the developing world, my partner is a journalist who has covered conflicts armed the globe. He is currently in the Congo. I am afraid that this means that war and injustice are things that my son will learn about early on. We intend to teach him that war–any violence for that matter—is a horrible, horrible, shameful thing and that there is nothing honorable about killing another human being. Full stop. That does not mean that we will teach him to hate or fear soldiers. Instead, we will explain to him that this is a crazy, often messed up world and that sometimes good people do bad things. Sometimes they even think the wrong thing is the right thing to do. This is not a hypothetical issue for us. My brother-in-law is an officer in the US Marine Corps. Some people may find this too absolutist but I have seen war and so has my partner. We can speak about it just like soldiers can. How are other mamas handeling this?

    • I, personally, completely agree with you, especially here:”We intend to teach him that war–any violence for that matter—is a horrible, horrible, shameful thing and that there is nothing honorable about killing another human being. Full stop. That does not mean that we will teach him to hate or fear soldiers.”

      Thank you.

      • I agree with you that violence is a horrible, horrible thing and that it is never the right answer. However, it seems to me that sometimes, it is our only answer. What about police officers? There are times where they have to shoot to kill in order to protect themselves or other innocent people. I don’t want to teach the children in my life that this is dishonorable. After all, it is something that I don’t think I would ever be capable of doing.

  3. Thanks for your opinions, guys! I may have not worded my comment properly but I was abolutely asking for advice on the subject, not putting down the book or the post at all.
    Sidenote: my husband is actually in the Canadian forces and therefore will moreso be helping with relief efforts and support in overseas countries. This is why I wouldn’t want our child thinking that “daddy going off to war” is bad, because he is not killing, in fact he is doing a lot more good than normal people who aren’t soldiers do in their everyday lives.
    Thanks for the responses! I think I’d probably buy the book and read over it all first to see the content more precisely, just to make sure there wouldn’t be any mixed messages about daddy’s job environment.

  4. I haven’t read this book, but the other book she mentions, There’s a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me is beautiful. It’s VERY simple. Almost in poem form. I thought it’d be too simple for my 5 year old, however she won’t put the book down! So another great suggestion. Thank you!

    • Good to know! I am always looking for great books (the teacher side of me lol) and I plan on checking out both of these. I just like hearing that they are great from more than one person lol!

  5. Hi Brittany,
    My husband and myself are in the forces, the Canadian ones, and while your husband may not be in the infantry, I assure that Canadian forces are definitely killing people, regardless of the their motivation Canadian troops are killing Insurgent forces, period.
    While I am in agreement with those that say Killing is a horrible shameful thing, full stop, ( no soldier is ever proud of this aspect of their mission) in a reality where war exists and bad people are attacking regular people, school children etc. sometimes people need to kill in order to protect a way of life, a way of life that allows for things like journalism, lifestyle choices and even things like offbeatmama blogs.
    I think while it is important to teach children that war deserves no glory, it is ugly and often engaged in for the wrong reasons, it is also important to teach children that those who serve do so at great sacrifice to themselves and their families so that the majority can continue to enjoy freedoms. There must be a balance, remember one of the biggest standing armies in the word is in Switzerland, even neutrality requires military protection.
    I think it is important to teach tolerance, respect, generosity, empathy and love. It is my hope that if enough of us teach these values that war will cease to exist and soldiers can do things like fill sand bags and shovel snow! In the meantime, please teach your children that soldiers are moms and dad, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and that there is no joy in war from them!

    Just so everyone is aware, although my husband is currently in Afghanistan, this is not a comment in support of the current major conflicts we engage in (i keep those opinions to myself)

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