The threat of war often evokes a wide range of emotions, but fear is always at the top of the list for children as well as adults. Perhaps it is the uncertainty that causes fear more than the actual circumstances? Ellen Wittlinger provides a thorough examination of the topic during October 1962 when the threat of war was imminent.
This Means War tells the story through a group of children whose conflict between boy and girls challenged their own alliances and allowed them to see how the resolve of individuals could push each side toward an outcome that was dangerous for everyone.
Although Wittlinger’s intended audience is aged 10-14 years, there is a sense of universal appeal in both her characters and the historical era. The notion that people are constantly at war with one another and themselves over trivial matters is played out in multiple scenarios. Many of the characters maintain the innocence that was part of the collective conscience of the early 1960s despite the undercurrents of change that was in the air.
Teachers and students should find ample background to capture what it was like to come home from civil defense drills and ponder the question of what they might take to their own bomb shelter, if they were lucky enough to have one. Similarly, older students will be able to make connections between the Kennedy-Khrushchev posturing and that of the battle between the boys and girls. Then, and now, one decision can change everything,
The book does take a while to get things rolling to the point where all the characters are sufficiently developed to achieve the outcome Wittlinger desires for her story. The younger readers may find this too much to wade through without encouragement. While older readers may not need the cultural background and story development, it could easily be aided by reading aloud as a class or in small groups. The importance and relative age of the event also lends itself to many opportunities such as oral history interviews and scores of available news footage and popular culture artifacts. The opportunities for extended use in the classroom are without limit.
Purchase This Means War for the classroom and library in the upper elementary and middle school with confidence that it will circulate. Be prepared for requests that ask for more from the time period. School librarians may want to create and circulate a pathfinder of the Cuban Missile Crisis to accompany the arrival of the book, or to mark the event during the month of October.
4 of 5
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901