A brown-skinned girl with black hair has breakfast with her parents and baby brother, sits at her desk at school, singing songs about tadpoles and learning about volcanoes, when war comes to her world. In an instant, everything she knows, everything she loves, is gone. She begins an arduous journey on foot, by truck, by bus, and by boat to a strange, new place; searching for a place where war can’t reach, she only encounters closed doors and hard faces. Even a school turns her away, telling her there are no chairs for her. As she loses hope, a boy finds her and brings her a chair so that she can come to school; his friends have brought chairs, too, so all children can come to school. Together, the children provide support for our protagonist, “pushing back the war with every step”.
This book is heartbreaking. The artwork, so childlike in itself, makes it even more powerful: the hunched over girl at her desk, braids blown back and artwork flying off her desk as the giant gray-black cloud envelops the facing page; the girl on her knees at the rubble of her home; the girl huddled under a blanket in an empty hut, turned away from a school for want of a chair. the our realization that she is the only survivor of that happy family eating breakfast together is almost too much to take. The pencil and watercolor art is stunning, using grays and blacks to communicate the horror. Orange flames compete with orange flowers in a destroyed city landscape. And the quiet gift from one child to another brings with it new color: green seats, red seats, blue and white striped seats. Color becomes hope.
The Day War Came is a poem Nicola Davies wrote after reading about a refugee child denied entry to a school because there was no chair for her. This gave birth to the #3000chairs movement, where thousands of people posted photos of empty chairs in solidarity with these children who had lost everything, including a chance at education. Nicola Davies’ poem is eloquent, heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful. Writing in the child’s voice brings home the impact of war on children.
She never names the child, nor does she name the child’s country of origin. The child is any refugee child from any number of countries where children are forced out of childhood far too soon. As the author says in her 3000 Chairs blog post, “In an ideal world there wouldn’t be children without parents. In an ideal world hospitals wouldn’t be bombed because they looked a bit like something else. In an ideal world everything would be sweet and smooth and we could all afford to be as selfish as we liked and it wouldn’t matter.”
An important addition to all collections. The Day War Came has a starred review from Booklist. There is a downloadable free discussion guide available through the publisher.