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Teaching Young Children About War Without Frightening Them

Children’s books — particularly picture books — that tackle the subject of war in sensitive and reassuring ways are rare. 

Figuring out how to explain such morbid business to children presents a serious challenge for authors and illustrators. If they truthfully depict death and destruction, they risk increasing children’s fears. If they offer false and improbable scenarios, they risk children’s mistrust.

I have been trying to crack this problem for years, but ever since my former homeland unleashed its war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, finding a solution has become urgent.

My family originated in Ukraine. Watching Russian rockets destroy their hometown, Dnipro, stirs anxiety in me not unlike what children who are far away from Ukraine must feel when they come upon ghastly media images that make the war appear dangerously close.

The encouraging news is that a growing number of publishers are finding effective ways to address this subject without diminishing its gravity.

In NOOR AND BOBBY (Yonder/Restless Books, 40 pp., $18.95, Ages 4 to 7) — written by the French-Lebanese storyteller Praline Gay-Para, illustrated in papercut collage by Lauranne Quentric and translated from the French by Alyson Waters — a boy runs after a dog abandoned by its owner in a city ravaged by war. The location of the city and the circumstances of the dog’s abandonment are never explained, but a sensitive reader will pick up clues that a catastrophe of some kind has taken place. The gap between what proves to be a fairly straightforward narrative and the mysterious world in which it unfolds will lead, one hopes, to honest yet comforting conversations between children and adults.


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