“Survival is not so much about the body, but rather it is about the triumph of the human spirit.” — Danitra Vance
When we launched our July/August theme, Scarred Souls & Bloodstained Memories: Tales of War & Poetry, Refuge & Peace, I was able to borrow quite a number of books from our library. I’m hoping that I would be able to feature most, if not all, of these books. Today’s 2-in-1 GatheringBooks special features the works of Angèle Delaunois and Jane Cutler. Both picturebooks demonstrate the unshakable power of the human spirit in wartime.
Written by: Angèle Delaunois
Illustrated by: Christine Delezenne
Published by: Second Story Press (2011)
Book borrowed from Cleveland Public Library.
“My name is Marwa and my best friend is Ahmad. We’ve known each other forever. He was the goalkeeper on our village soccer team. The best one we’ve ever had. But Ahmad doesn’t play ball anymore. He’s the reason I want to tell this story.”
Marwa and Ahmad lived in an unnamed village that was caught in a war not too long before Marwa began telling her story. Although the children heard explosions when the war broke out, Marwa admitted that they were mostly thinking about the harvest, their farm animals, and soccer. Marwa and Ahmad loved to play soccer.
One fateful day, while Marwa and Ahmad were out in the forest kicking the soccer ball, Ahmad spotted a little yellow bottle that was half-hidden in the grass. It looked so pretty, shining like gold under the sun. Ahmad picked it up then showed it to Marwa. Things happened so quickly.
An intense light blinded us. Pain shot through my body as if a thousand fires were burning me all at the same time. I heard Ahmad fall to the ground, screaming.
Then, everything went black.
It turned out that the little yellow bottle was a bomb that had been dropped from the sky while the war was going on. It exploded upon impact and harmed the two children. Marwa suffered severe wounds caused by thousands of shrapnel that pierced through her skin. Ahmad had it worse. The doctors had to amputate his left arm and left leg, and this left Ahmad feeling hopeless. A special visitor who had laughing eyes came and helped Ahmad realize that his courage to live is more powerful than little yellow bottles.
Parents should guide their children in reading The Little Yellow Bottle because it touches on a very sensitive topic. The words and images in the book might be too graphic for the younger children. It should be noted, however, that Angèle Delaunois’ lyrical narrative effectively portrayed the damaging effects of war on children. The story was told using Marwa’s perspective. Marwa’s innocent and simple words make the story poignant. Nothing is more heartbreaking than hearing a child tell a story about war. Christine Delezenne’s illustrations are powerful. The variety of textures and drawings as well as the collage she used make the book a visual experience. The Little Yellow Bottle does not only present a beautiful story about war. It also lends a voice to children with physical and emotional disabilities caused by war.
Written by: Jane Cutler
Illustrated by: Greg Couch
Published by: Dutton Children’s Books (1999)
Book borrowed from Hudson Library & Historical Society.
Jane Cutler’s picturebook, The Cello of Mr. O, focuses on a young (unnamed) girl living in a war-torn city. She was afraid that her city was in the midst of a war. To comfort herself, she tried to imagine that the white trails of fire and orange flashes of mortars in the sky were meteors and shooting stars.
Food is scarce, of course. And water. We collect rainwater in bowls and buckets. And we go to distribution centers and bring water home.
Some people carry their heavy containers of water in shopping carts, some in wheelbarrows. In winter, many of us use sleds. Last week, Mama and I saw a woman hauling water in a wheelchair.
Each Wednesday at four, the relief truck comes to a street right outside our square. We wait in line to receive soap, cooking oil, canned fish, flour.
Nothing is as it was: shops, cars, and apartments have been destroyed. Schools are closed, the electricity is usually out, and there is no gas at all. Even the telephones don’t work.
Many people have left.
The war certainly did not make life easier for a young girl who was struggling with her emotions. At times when she did not feel scared, she felt angry. Her mother insisted that they stay at their place in case her father came back from the war.
The young girl would pass the time playing cards and word games with their friends. Sometimes, they would chase each other down the apartment hall. One tenant in particular was not fond of kids shouting down the hallway. Mr. O would open his door and shout, “Quiet, you kids!” I suppose an old man could not help it, especially if children would blow up a paper bag then pop it right outside his apartment door.
Mr. O was not only known for yelling at kids. He was good at playing the cello. The young girl remembered the story that her father told her about the cello of Mr. O.
“The front and back of that excellent cello were carved out of German fiddleback maple and hand-rubbed with a special polish made in France… The neck of the cello was made of mahogany from Honduras, and the fingerboard of ebony, probably from Ceylon… As for the bow, it was carved out of a soft wood that grows in Brazil. The ivory on its tip came from Africa.”
One Wednesday afternoon, a rocket hit, and the relief truck carrying the goods was destroyed. Everyone was devastated.
The following Wednesday, at four o’clock, Mr. O got out of the house. He was dressed nicely and he carried with him his cello and a chair. He sat right in the middle of the square and started playing the music of Bach. The young girl and the rest of the people listened to the “complicated music, the powerful and reassuring notes.” This happened everyday, at four o’clock.
Although the city was unnamed, I have a feeling that the book was referring to Sarajevo, the largest city of Bosnia. The city was bombed in 1992 and was taken under siege by the Bosnian Serbs. One of the reasons I was delighted to find The Cello of Mr. O was because the story reminded me of Stephen Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, which I reviewed four years ago.
The Cello of Mr. O shows the healing powers of music in times of adversity. People in the city were losing hope day after day, but it was Mr. O’s music that uplifted their spirit and made them less and less afraid. Greg Couch’s brilliant illustrations rendered in watercolor reflect the joy and vibrancy of Mr. O’s music. Kids will love this simple story of a young girl and an old cellist who were struggling to survive during the war.