Families in Transition
Perhaps nothing disrupts families more deeply than war. Young people go off leaving siblings and sweethearts behind. Parents return from war, changed.
When a soldier is deployed, his entire family is affected. Our country has been in military conflict for over ten years. As children experience the many transitions that are part of a family – or friend – affected by war, we can offer books that share the experiences of other children and families coping with war. EDDIE’S WAR is an honest and hopeful example.
The story is classic but the characters are as fresh as a home-grown tomato. An older brother enlists and soon leaves for combat, World War II. The younger brother, Eddie, remains at home, helps with farm chores while wondering and worrying. Will his big brother, his hero, return? Will he be all right, or end up missing an arm or leg like other soldiers who have come home? Or even worse, missing something inside, the part that laughed, dared to bike straight down the steepest hill, laughing the whole way.
Carol Saller has captured the perspective of young Eddie as he deals with prewar times in the rural Midwest: farm life, the pranks and dares of best friends, the jealousies of siblings and, all of this, spiced with conflicting small town gossip. We see this world through Eddie’s eyes, a coming-of-age boy, still innocent but full of questions. One of my favorite dialogues is Eddie’s debate with his friend, what is the best way to die – maybe by guillotine, but without a sharp blade handy, then electric chair, but certainly not by hanging.
In the hushed town library we watch Eddie tip-toe in but stop when he notices a stranger sitting in front of the wooden rack of newspapers. The stranger is Mr. Mirga, whom some say is a thieving gypsy spy. But everyone knows that gypsies can’t read. So why is Mr. Mirga in the library? Eddie notices that every morning Mr. Mirga studies every newspaper, hungry to find news of Poland: “rustle, snap, open, close, page after page opens wide like the wings of a big papery moth.”
Here in the library Eddie also learns the important facts of life, from how to clean out 15 miles of kidney tubes with Doan’s Pills to why Europe is inching closer to war as the Nazis point deadly fingers at those groups who need to be ”cleansed” – homosexuals, criminals, gypsies, Jews. Eddie may not know a Jew but he does know a gypsy. The gypsy he knows is soon in grave danger; even hanging looms as a possibility.
Author Carol Saller has captured the details of the life of a farm boy growing up in prewar time in American’s rural midwest, as international events begin to effect even isolated communities. She has captured the emotional climate of small town prejudices and values mixed with national fears. In the middle of these growing conflicts, one young man, Eddie, is faced with deciding who to believe, what he should do – IF he has enough courage.
During an interview with Carol whose “day job” is not writing, but editing, I asked:
Did you write Eddie’s War because of the many kids today who are “left behind” as their parents or siblings are deployed to the Middle East?
Quite honestly, I wasn’t thinking of present-day parallels when I created Eddie, because he’s based on my father, who wrote a diary as the kid left behind. His much older brother went off to fly a bomber in the Pacific.
The diary was a tremendous resource. It kept me grounded in that time and place and gave me a lot of historical farming detail that wouldn’t have been the same if I had researched it in books and journals.
What a testament to the unknown power of keeping a journal. As a country we are again in war times, already for more than ten years. Students could write about who they know who has enlisted and been deployed. They could write from experience or imagination what it is like to wait for the safe return of a brother or sister.
For a step into the World War II era, take a look at Carol’s website: www.carolsaller.com Readers will find historical posters and newspaper clippings as well as pages from Dad’s diary. Teachers will find writing suggestions.
The new kid to the neighborhood, Sameer, is invited by Luke and his friends to join in their favorite game – playing war. But Sameer is hesitant. Sameer was in a real war.
“No way! You haven’t told us anything about that! A real war? Did they let kids be soldiers? Did you have an M-16?” Luke eagerly asks lots of questions about what it was like to be in a real war. Sameer’s answers were not what Luke expected to hear.
This picture book offers a much needed book about a difficult topic. The conversations of the boys provide a helpful model for adults to continue the discussion – what would it be like to be in a real war? PLAYING WAR was published by Tilbury House, July, 2012.