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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Good Night, Commander, written by Ahmad Arkbarpour and illustrated by Morteza Zahedi. Groundwood, 2010. $17.95 ages 8 and up

"As soon as he leaves I grab
my leg and climb under the covers.
I don't what the enemy to see me like this.
Quickly I shut the two small clasps,
then the two big ones and pull the strap
up over my back.
Then I jump out of bed and grab my gun."

 The author opens his story with a note about the Iran-Iraq war, saying:
"As always in wars such as these, innocent people - especially children, families, poor people, and soldiers who were forced to fight - were the greatest victims. This story tells about one such child..."

His mother is dead, his leg is gone and his father is preparing to get married again. While fighting an imaginary enemy in his bedroom, it is suggested that the boy remove his prosthesis while he is home. Father says it is noisy and easily damaged. As soon as his father departs, he reattaches the leg and leads the assault against the enemy across the room, his mother watching from a picture on the wall. He acts out all of his aggression and anger in an imagined battle with those who killed his mother and caused his injury. One of his enemies is of particular interest when the boy discovers that he is young, has lost his mother and a leg. He does not have a prosthesis and wonders out loud how it helps. The young commander shows compassion when he lends it to the enemy soldier so that he might show his mother...also a picture on the wall who 'can see him'. Despite misgivings about the failure of his mission to avenge her death, his mother is reassuring and the boy goes to sleep with her blessing.

The child-like pencil drawings are rendered in subdued tones, with only a few spots of color. We watch from above as the tanks, guns, soldiers and the room's furniture are lit by a single bare light bulb. There are land mines, grenades, bombs and enemy soldiers, but he shows no fear, buoyed by his mother's presence.
Can a child make sense of war and its devastating effects? Books such as this go a long way in helping children sort it all out.

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