Happy Valentine’s Day! This holiday, I will be joining Christie Wright Wild in celebrating our wild love of children’s books with her PB 14:14 Challenge. Each day for 14 days, I’ll choose one picture book to review and share what I’ve learned about one of the Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books from it. Follow along to learn with me, or feel free to join in the challenge yourself! Yes, there are prizes.
To kick off, I’ll be sharing the book The Enemy. No, I did not choose it to be ironic for Valentine’s Day. I chose it because it is a story that beautifully transitions from war and hatred into peace and love. And so I’ll be looking at how well it exemplifies Story Element #5: Theme.
Title: The Enemy: a book about peace
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Serge Bloch
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009
The Enemy is the story of a soldier and his enemy who pass their days shooting at each other and hiding in their own, isolated holes. The soldier narrating is tired of fighting, but he is afraid that if he leaves his hole, the other soldier will kill him. Besides, the manual he was given at the start of the war told him he must kill his enemy before his enemy killed him. While there are many wonderful books on the theme of peace, Cali’s does a particularly wonderful job of showing that what allows people to be violent to each other is dehumanizing one another. He writes:
Except for hunger, the enemy and I have nothing in common. He is a wild beast. He does not know mercy. I know this because I read it in my manual.
If he kills us, he will also kill our families and our pets, burn down our forests, even poison our water. The enemy is not a human being.
As we get to know the narrating soldier better, we see how humanly he experiences the war, hungry, tired from being rained on all night, lonesome for his family, and even unsure of what is happening in the world outside of his hole. He starts to wonder if perhaps his enemy shares any of these emotions:
At night, there are lots of stars above my hole. I wonder if the enemy sees them too. Maybe if he looked at them he would understand that war is pointless and it must stop.
Even after considering this, the soldier is so listless of fighting and so afraid to surrender that he decides he must kill the enemy. Disguised, he sneaks into the enemy’s hole, but he finds the enemy has snuck over to his hole to do the same. But the enemy’s hole is not completely empty. There are photos of his family and the enemy’s own manual… with the soldier pictured as the enemy. The illustrations are as simple and poignant as the text, and though I won’t spoil the ending, the final illustration is a beautiful demonstration of our shared humanity and a powerful call for peace.