When the war is over by Jackie French

cover image

Ill. by Anne Spudvilas. Angus and Robertson, 2019. ISBN: 9781460753026.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Themes: War, Australia at war, Peace, Freedom, Education for girls. A powerful hymn to the end of all war is sung in these multi layered verses by French, illustrated with measured assurance by Spudvilas. From the first stanza, 'When the war is over . . . You'll come back to me, to the last, Now the war is over . . . You've come back to me,' the book presents an overview of each of the wars Australia has been involved in, a four lined poem responding to each war and its fighters, the illustrations reflecting the immense toll taken on the returning soldiers and their families.
Each has a reunion, a coming together of the soldier and his family, a change for each person, a new beginning for most, perhaps a burial for some. Turning the pages reveals a new war, a new ending, a different reunion.
Between the first and last pages, readers will be emotionally involved in the telling and the images, reflecting on the immense cost that these wars bring to the population, thinking about our nation being asked to send troops to places outside our area of influence.
I found it hard to read without a tear, memories of relatives and friends' actions in these wars reminding me of the futility of their sacrifice.
But French tells us their sacrifice is justified if just one girl can go to school with impunity, if one small space in the world is free, even though that freedom may be like tissue paper, drifting on the wind.
Readers will gain an understanding that war is ever present, that Australia has been involved in many wars, and want to research the ones they have not heard about. They will discuss the absence of war and what can be achieved by places being at peace. This book reveals a range of issues which could be debated in the classroom, but above all it is about the ending of war.
Spudvilas' illustrations are simply superb, detailing instances in families' lives when war is at an end, showing what this ending means, a reunion and a new beginning. Her paintings are to be looked over with a fine toothed comb, the details absorbed, the setting for each so well defined. Readers will spend a long time looking into the images created by Spudvials, perfectly complimenting the text on every page.
Fran Knight