Monday, April 13, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Bunny the brave war horse by Elizabeth Macleod, illustrated by Marie Lafrance

2014 is the 100th anniversary of World War I, so I've been seeing a lot of WWI books coming out. Why you would want to commemorate a horrific world war I'm not sure, but it is what it is.

This is a picture book featuring a popular topic, animals in war. It's based on the true story of Bunny, one of the horses used in World War I. Bunny was a police horse chosen by the army. He and his rider, Bud, survive poison gas, help move supplies and wounded men, and pull cannons. After Bud is killed, his brother Tom is given Bunny and together they suffer the privations of war; Bunny is so hungry he eats his own blanket at one point. Bunny proves himself to Tom and the other soldiers and eventually the war is won and Tom returns home. Bunny, however, like all the other horses is left behind with farmers in Belgium.

A brief history of World War I, the 9th Battery, horses in war, and the end of war and the fate of the horses is included in the back. There are no sources listed or anything to delineate the difference between historical fact (which is apparently very thin on this story) and the author's imagination.

Lafrance's illustrations have a friendly, cartoon feel to them. The people look like wooden dolls and the battlefields are remarkably tidy. Review suggest this as a good introduction to World War I for young children; it doesn't shy away from the death, but the pictures and story are sanitized for younger readers and there is no blood or graphic depictions of violence. Which, frankly, to me makes no sense. Why would you want to introduce the concept of world war to a six year old anyways? Bunny always looks sturdy and healthy, even when he is starving. The battlefields are as orderly as a well-groomed park and the soldiers all look reasonably healthy and in good spirits.

Verdict: My review of this is pretty much personally biased. This is, in my opinion, a completely inappropriate introduction to a horrific war. I'm doubtful about the need to have books on world war for very young children anyways, but I certainly wouldn't recommend this one. The completely sanitized pictures convey nothing about the realities of war and make it look like they're going for a little vacation in Europe. This is just my opinion - many other review sources thought this was an excellent introduction to the war for young children. I won't be purchasing it for my library though.

ISBN: 9781771380249; Published 2014 by Kids Can Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium


LMacL said...

Hi Jennifer,

It's too bad you didn't enjoy reading my book about Bunny. You mention that you don't think young kids need books about war, so you might be interested to hear how this book came about. I was at Monsignor O'Donoghue Catholic Elementary School in Peterborough, Ontario, a few years ago giving presentations about my book "The Kids Book of Canada at War" (also from Kids Can Press). After my presentations, I asked the librarian, Lisa Hiltz, if there were any books she wishes authors would write. She mentioned that there are few books for the youngest children in her school, but since they attend Remembrance Day ceremonies and need to learn about November 11, she wished there were more books to teach them about this important day. A few months later, I came across the story of Bunny and as I was writing my first draft, I knew if the book was published I would dedicate it to Lisa and her school -- which I did.


Liz MacLeod

Jennifer said...

That's an interesting point - I wonder if there's a cultural disconnect, since I've noticed that most American schools shy away from teaching about wars - I don't think I've ever been asked for historical materials about war for young children in the 7+ years I've been in the public library! I've talked to sixth graders that have studied World War II and don't know who Anne Frank is or have never heard about the Holocaust! It's interesting to see the different ways that wars are commemorated as well - It was just Memorial Day here in the States and people have parades etc. rather than the more solemn ceremonies they seem to have in other countries.