A Book Review
By Adam Contini
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
When I first looked at I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia, I thought it would be another book about the adorable things that little, rosy-cheeked children thought were "cool." Despite its short length and unusual concept, this book about children's experiences during war in the former Yugoslavia, has more feeling and gives an undoubtedly more accurate account of the horror children have experienced than any written history or second-hand analysis.
The children, whose works are represented in the book, are not the rosy-cheeked cherubs they first seem to be. They had to grow up faster than anyone ever did, almost as fast as the children of the Holocaust of WW II. This is an extremely powerful, deep, and emotional book about children in wartime.
This book takes place in four stages. These are the stages of the children's therapy. In the first stage, children drew pictures, wrote poems, or expressed words about their life during the war in some form of artistic expression. Some people will definitely be shocked at the brutality these children experienced.
"We are children without a country and without hope." This was written by Dunja, a 14 year old. During this horrible time when children were targeted for this war, most children felt this way, lost in the confusion of not knowing why adults were fighting around them.
The next section, "The Day They Killed My House" deals with something that most people take for granted, but that these kids began to appreciate more and more, Home! Throughout this war, thousands of houses were destroyed. This inanimate object never had more importance then when children of war cried out about how dramatically their lives changed in the crumbling of stone, steel, and wood.
The third section and perhaps the most frightening is, "My Nightmare." In this section children tell of the nightmares that wake them as they toss in the night. Though the reader sees childish drawings that don't seem serious, it's important to remember that these are from the vision of children. This is what festers in their minds, torturing them at almost every sleeping moment. This is where they were truly affected, in their subconscious minds.
The fourth, and most important section of the book is "When I Close My Eyes, I Dream of Peace." This is the expression of these children's hopes for the future. This is where the sanity that kept them alive lives, and this is where the roots of peace and love will start.
As I read the book, it hurt me inside that this knowledge had to come from the horrible destruction that these kids . . . excuse me . . . "people" had to go through. They are no longer kids. It's because of this final chapter that the children/people are able to remember happiness and move on with their lives.
Hidden in the mask of a children's book, is an incredible history containing more emotion, power, validity, and intelligence, than anything ever done by children to my knowledge. But, most important, it's a message:
"War is here, but we await peace. We are in a corner of the world where nobody seems to hear us. But we are not afraid, and we will not give up."
A Fifth Grade Class in Zenica
I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia, UNICEF. (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994, 80 pages.)
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