After a cozy breakfast with her family, an ordinary little girl goes to her ordinary classroom to learn about ordinary topics like volcanoes and tadpoles. Then, with a “spattering of hail and a voice of thunder,” her entire world changes when war comes. “Ragged, bloody, all alone,” the little girl begins her perilous journey across land and water to a bleak refugee camp. By chance she comes across a sunny classroom, where students are learning about volcanoes and tadpoles. But she is not welcome; there is no chair for her.
Written by Nicola Davies, and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, The Day War Came is a picture book with minimal text and simple illustrations. The simplicity is deceptive, however; both the text and illustrations are deeply moving. The genesis of this story/poem was the refusal of the United Kingdom to accept 3,000 child refugees in the spring of 2016. Written as a response to this event, the poem was first published in the Guardian newspaper, along with images of empty chairs. This inspired the “#3000Chairs” Twitter campaign.
The publisher’s information for this book describes it as suitable for ages 5-8, but I would recommend care when using it with younger students. The town is turned to rubble, and the girl’s home is a black hole. Although it is not stated explicitly, readers can infer that her family, teacher and classmates have been killed. Both the text and illustrations are very bleak; there is a haunting image of “a beach where shoes lay forgotten and alone.”
This book would be useful for any junior/intermediate class exploring the issue of refugees in either a current event or historical context. What has Canada’s response been to this issue in recent years, and in the past? The book has direct relevance to the People and Environment strand of the grades five and six Social Studies curriculum. Older students could also recognize this picture book about one child as a metaphor for how society is to deal with the current worldwide crisis.
Teri Thayer is a member of the Limestone Teacher Local.