CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 29. . . .April 2, 2010.
Good Night, Commander.
Ahmad Akbarpour. Illustrated by Morteza Zahedi. Translated by Shadi Eskandani & Helen Mixter.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, 2010.
24 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988-Juvenile fiction.
Children with disabilities-Iran-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 2-8 / Ages 7-13.
Review by Marilynne V. Black.
We creep across the battlefield. We have to be brave because there are so many bombs and tanks, maybe even a land mine. If we are not careful, we could die before we even get to say ouch.
“Attack! Now!” I order and lead the assault. The enemy shoots but nothing can stop us.
Grenades go off and the room fills with smoke, just like in a movie.
The dark is scary, but I’m not afraid of the dark.
“Right, Mom? When we had to hide in the basement and all the other children were crying and screaming because of the bombs. I just sat next to you and covered my ears with my hands. Remember?”
My mother in the picture says, “That’s right, son.”
One of my soldiers screams, “I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit!”
But I’m the Commander. I don’t get scared. I make my way down the hill. Even though my leg hurts, I find the soldier. And I order the troops to stay back..
Then I hear my father calling, “It’s time for dinner. Your uncles and aunties are here.”
This small picture book is very deceptive – it carries a powerful message in just 24 pages. It is the story of a small nameless boy who has lost a leg during the Iran-Iraq War between 1980 and 1988. The forward states:
The story is set in Iran. But it could be the story of any child in any country where war is fought for economic, strategic, ideological or other reasons, and in the end leaves everyone far worse off than they were before, especially the innocent victims.
Through his imaginings, we see the boy act out the hurt of losing his mother, his feelings about the impending remarriage of his father, and his need to avenge his mother’s death. In his bedroom, the boy pretends to be a Commander and vanquish his enemy, the one responsible for his mother’s death and the loss of his leg. When they come face to face, however, his enemy turns out to be a frightened little boy who has also lost leg.
Delivered in a straightforward childlike manner, the text is enhanced by the dialogue between the boy and his imaginary enemy. This approach lends authenticity to the child’s voice and will help young readers understand the impact of wars on children much like themselves - the futility of war and the carnage inflicted by it.
The illustrations have a primitive sketch-like style. They are mostly rendered in beige with a few splashes of colour. The juxtaposition of realism and imagination has a strong impact. The reality of war is seen in the bullets flying out of guns, shells dropping from helicopters and shot from tanks, and blood oozing from felled soldiers. His dialogue with his mother and his enemy, as well as the perspective from above, as though through the eyes of the mother looking down on her son, emphasizes that the story is from a child’s viewpoint. This is further heightened by the lack of scale - the boy is bigger than both the helicopter and tank. In addition, it is the switching back and forth from his imaginary war to the reality of ordinary conversations and the visit from relatives keeps the story at a child’s level of understanding.
Although the publisher states that Good Night, Commander is for ages seven and up, it will certainly make an excellent vehicle for discussion with older children. It can be used in conjunction with other titles about both the inhumanity and humanity of war. The latter can be found in other titles such as Rose Blanche (Innocenti & Gallaz, 1985) and In Flanders Fields (Jorgensen, 2003). In the first, a German child feeds a Jewish child in a prison camp while, in the second, fighting stops as a soldier rescues a robin. All three help children understand the complexities of wars past and present.
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.
A small forward introduces the background of the story. Selected for an IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Outstanding Books for Young People With Disabilities.
Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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