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Smad about war

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A Piece of Forever
Laurel Dee Gugler

Lorimer, 2008
164 pages/ages 6-10

When my children were younger, I was always on the lookout for good books to push their way or read aloud to them. Laurel Dee Gugler’s A Piece of Forever qualifies as a pleasurable reading experience but also conveys a “message” I believe in. It would definitely have landed on my list.

It’s 1956, and 10-year-old Rose, a Mennonite girl who lives in Kansas, is having a hard time with what some of her classmates are saying. “You think you’re better than we are?” taunts one. “Well, my papa fought for our country. Your papa is just a yellow-bellied chicken, that’s what!”

Rose works through her confusion in various ways. She learns about her father’s experience as a conscientious objector. For her Veteran’s Day project, she researches the story of Sadako, a Japanese girl who died of radiation sickness after the bombing on Hiroshima. In the letter Rose has to write to a veteran, she tells him she admires his bravery but admits she’s “all befuddled” and even “smad” about the war. (“Smad” is a word Rose makes up that means being sad and mad at the same time.) She makes important discoveries about friendship, courage, and the powerful effect of kindness.

Laurel Dee Gugler of Toronto, author of an earlier Rose book, Catching Forever, as well as picture books, grew up in a Mennonite community. She remembers being called “chicken” because her people didn’t go to war. The personal insight shows. This is a well-told story with a credible, spunky protagonist, and it communicates the Mennonite peace position without being didactic about it.

The book is targeted for ages 6 to 10. Some readers may need help with period references like Elvis Presley and Billy Graham, and Canadian parents or teachers will want to explain how Mennonites in this country have responded to war.

—Dora Dueck

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