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The Unthinkable For Kids

August 09, 1998

THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK. By Dr. Seuss (Random House: 48 pp., $15.99)

If you were to send thousands of these books to India and Pakistan, you might give offense. But for those of us who don't understand the subcontinent's deep divisions, this book draws a useful parallel: The Yooks and Zooks are at war over the issue of whether it is better to eat bread with the buttered side up or down. They engage in a long-running battle, developing more and more sophisticated weapons as they try to outdo the other. We see the tactical foolishness of this as the Yooks and Zooks progress from a slingshot to a Jigger-Rock Snatchem to an Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom-Blitz to the Big-Boy Boomeroo, which would blow all of them into smithereens. We also learn that violence always has a way of escalating to who-knows-what. Here are the good doctor's last rhymes on the subject: " 'Grandpa!' I shouted 'Be careful! Oh, gee! / Who's going to drop it? / Will you? . . . Or will he? . . . / ' 'Be patient,' said Grandpa. 'We'll see / We will see. . . .' " (Ages 5 and up)

WHY? By Nikolai Popov (North-South Books: 32 pp., $6.95 paper)

A frog sits peacefully in a meadow. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he is attacked by an umbrella-wielding mouse in a confrontation that quickly turns into a full-scale war. The story is a wordless condemnation of the stupidity of war, engagingly told through Nikolai Popov's lithe and forceful artwork. As he says in his author's note at the end of the book, "[I]t seems to me that if children can understand the senselessness of war, if they can see how easily one can be sucked into a cycle of violence, they may become a force for peace in the future. I also hope that adults who share the book with children will reexamine their own thoughts on the futility of war." (Ages 5-8)

MY HIROSHIMA. By Junko Morimoto (Puffin: 32 pp., $5.99 paper)

On Aug. 6, 1945, author-illustrator Junko Morimoto had a stomachache and stayed home from school. She and her sister were in their room talking when suddenly there was a bright flash and thunderous explosion. When she awoke, her house and all of Hiroshima had been destroyed. Everything was burning. Here in spare, elegant words and pictures are Junko's memories of her childhood in Hiroshima and a moving account of the terrible aftermath of the bomb. The most poignant passage: "Half a year passed. The students who had survived went back to their schools. From the dirt of the burnt earth I took an aluminum lunch box with burnt, black rice inside. I found the bones of many friends." (Ages 5-8)

SHIN'S TRICYCLE. By Tatsuharu Kodama . Illustrated by Noriyuki Ando (Walker & Co.: 36 pp., $15.95

This is the true story of Mr. and Mrs. Nobuo Tetsutani, who lost three children in the atomic blast. Two daughters, Michiko and Yoko, were buried beneath the rubble of their home. But at the time of the blast, their 4-year-old son, Shin, had been outside on his tricycle with his best friend, Kimi (the little girl next door). After the blast, Kimi is dead, but little Shin is just barely alive. Yet he asks about his trike. Later that night, he dies and is buried with the remains of the other children in the Tetsutanis' garden. Shin's beloved tricycle is buried with them too. Many years later, when the Tetsutanis gave the children a proper burial in a cemetery, they found the battered remains of Shin's tricycle and gave it to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, where you can see it today. The straightforward text and dramatic paintings of this book bring you close enough to see that the heartbreak of war never dies. (Ages 7-10)

HIROSHIMA NO PIKA. By Toshi Maruki (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard: 48 pp., $16)

This is a retelling by famed artist Toshi Maruki of a mother's account of what happened to her family during the Hiroshima blast. More than any other picture book, this one seems to capture the brutal, evil horror that was inflicted on Hiroshima on that midsummer morning at the end of the war. But through its artwork, it captures--in an almost monumental way--the human will to survive and the devotion of family members to one another. There is nobility here amid the suffering. This book offers a fascinating, unsanitized blend of beauty and ugliness, and some startling images result: Years after the blast, "Mii complains that her head itches, and her mother parts her hair, sees something shiny and pulls it out of her scalp with a pair of tweezers. It's a sliver of glass, embedded when the bomb went off years ago, that has worked its way to the surface." (Ages 7 and up)

SADAKO AND THE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES. By Eleanor Coerr . Illustrated by Ronald Himler (Bantam: 64 pp., $3.95 paper)

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