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Notable Books

Books | Four war-themed graphic novels

Issue: "Back to School," Sept. 6, 2014

The Lamb and the Führer

By Ravi Zacharias

What happened to Adolf Hitler after he shot himself in his underground bunker? Zacharias imagines the Führer, bereft of his uniform and with a small hole in his right temple, meeting Jesus and demanding the right to explain himself. Hitler is on trial, and “the Lamb” calls witnesses including Dietrich Bonhoeffer to testify against him. The story serves to illustrate some of the author’s principal lecture themes, including the basis for morality and the problem of unity-in-diversity. An introduction featuring two present-day college students establishes the background as well as its relevance for today. Some of the material is intense: best suited for ages 15 and up.

Boxers & Saints

By Gene Luen Yang

The Boxer Rebellion, a bloody 19th-century outbreak of Chinese nationalists against Western influence and religion, is the setting for these overlapping novels. Though the characters are fictional, the events and background are not. Yang contrasts two worldviews in the characters of Little Bao, a young man empowered by traditional mythology to revenge missionary wrongs, and Four-Girl, a Catholic convert who takes her name from St. Vibiana and her inspiration from Joan of Arc. Both sides have their bad actors, but Christianity is seen to have resources traditional mythology does not. Due to graphically depicted violence, these books are best suited to teens and up.

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Nathan Hale

“Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales,” of which this is the fourth, employ the author’s namesake (the heroic Revolutionary War spy) as narrator for some dark, dramatic chapters in history. Here Hale tackles “The Great War” with the help of two sidekicks, the Hangman and the British Provost. In the style of Art Spiegelman’s classic Maus, the warring sides are shown as animals: British bulldogs, German eagles, Russian bears, and American bunnies (because eagles already were taken). Though it veers into silliness in places, the narrative tells the overall history of the conflict accurately and imaginatively, with a strong (and mostly serious) conclusion. Middle-graders and older kids can learn a lot.

Dogs of War

By Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox

“Whenever people go to war, so do their best friends.” These three stories of the Great War, World War II, and Vietnam feature a Border Collie (Boots), a Siberian Husky (Loki), and a German Shepherd (Sheba) serving their masters in trenches, tundra, and jungle, respectively. Dog lovers and war buffs alike will enjoy learning about the many critical functions dogs have supplied under fire. The first two stories are straightforward adventure, but the third delves into human psychology through the eyes of a young boy who befriends a reclusive Vietnam vet struggling to fit into society again. Though intended for middle-grade readers, the dialogue includes two instances of mild profanity.


Since “gender variance” is getting a lot of play this year, and since cultural agendas find their way into children’s picture books, it’s no surprise that two books this year, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and Jacob’s New Dress, have joined 10,000 Dresses (2008) in depicting boys who include dolls, tiaras, and dresses in their repertoire of playacting. Bailey, of 10,000 Dresses, calls himself a girl even though his anatomy and his unsympathetic family say otherwise. Morris and Jacob don’t go that far, but these boys struggle with their own nature (and other kids’ teasing) until understanding adults help them make a breakthrough and feel comfortable with themselves. It’s also no surprise that reviewers and educators enthusiastically recommend these titles for any school library’s “diversity” shelf, but picture books can’t begin to address the complexity of cross-gender identity. —J.B.C.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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