The Button War

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Modern Age

The Button War: A Tale of the Great War
Author: Avi
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1914
Geographic Area: Europe
Country: Poland
Topics: WWI
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Upper Middle Grade
Format: Chapter Book
Published: 2018

Content Warning
animal death, child death, battle violence

World History > Modern Age > WWI

“Captures the ways that war can forever alter a child’s sense of order, morality, and security in the world. Strongly visual scenes . . . will long resonate in readers’ minds.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Twelve-year-old Patryk knows little of the world beyond his tiny Polish village; the Russians have occupied the land for as long as anyone can remember, but otherwise life is unremarkable. Patryk and his friends entertain themselves by coming up with dares — some more harmful than others — until the Germans drop a bomb on the schoolhouse and the Great War comes crashing in. As control of the village falls from one nation to another, Jurek, the ringleader of these friends, devises the best dare yet: whichever boy steals the finest military button will be king.

But as sneaking buttons from uniforms hanging to dry progresses to looting the bodies of dead soldiers — and as Jurek’s obsession with being king escalates — Patryk begins to wonder whether their “button war” is still just a game. When devastation reaches their doorstep, the lines between the button war and the real war blur, especially for the increasingly callous Jurek. Renowned master of historical fiction, and award-winning author Avi delivers a stark, fierce account of the boys of one war-torn village who are determined to prove themselves with a simple dare that spins disastrously out of control — now out in paperback with a newly imagined cover.

Emily's Review

There aren't enough WWI stories in general, and even fewer for middle-grade readers, so when I discover them, I get excited. This story was quite sad and disturbing, but I was riveted from beginning to end. It felt realistic, there is no romanticizing of war in this story. When war came to Patryk's small Polish village, it devastated everything. I especially liked that the adults in the story, who were not very present, had no idea what was going on either. They knew that the invading armies on either side were bad for their village, but no one seemed to know what was going to happen. I think this is much more honest of a portrayal. Sometimes the adults don't have the answers.

The story revolves around a game - whichever boy steals the best button from the soldiers wins and becomes king. I think this book does a great job of showing the pointlessness of war, illustrated by the bully daring the other boys to do riskier and riskier things to collect the "best" button. Much like war, in the end, no one wins and everything is ruined.

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