Darker than the Newbery Medalist’s usual fare, this powerfully evocative WWI novel set in Poland parallels a child’s game with the war raging in the not-so-distant background. After the Germans bomb the schoolhouse and the long-residing Russian soldiers prepare to leave the area, Patryk’s small, isolated village is suddenly a whirlwind of activity. Inspired by the frequent comings and goings of military men, Jurek, the cruel, conniving leader of Patryk’s group of classmates, declares a daring challenge: whoever procures the best button from a soldier’s uniform gets to be king. Patryk is determined to beat Jurek at his own game, but he is no match for Jurek’s determination to win at all costs, even as the game turns deadly. Told from Patryk’s point of view, the novel captures the ways that war can forever alter a child’s sense of order, morality, and security in the world. Strongly visual scenes, including the smoky forest after battle, the soldiers marching in perfect formation, and a chilling final image of Jurek, will long resonate in readers’ minds. Ages 10–14. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman. (June)
Gr 5–8—Avi's intense and cautionary novel is a psychological thriller set in a hardscrabble Polish village during World War I. Patryk, the 12-year-old narrator, is one of a group of boys who meet nightly at the village water pump to share news and plan adventures, most of which are harmless dares. But on the night the Germans drop a bomb on the local schoolhouse, their lives are changed forever. A troubled boy named Jurek, whose parents died years earlier and who lives with his older sister, challenges his friends to steal the shiniest and most intricately designed military button. The winner, according to Jurek, will be the king. The king of what is unimportant to Jurek, a boy anxious to have control over something in his life. Patryk recognizes the danger of Jurek winning; he has seen glimpses of Jurek's cold heart and knows the danger he poses. But when the contest has tragic consequences, Patryk is torn between his loyalty to his friends and his conscience. One by one, the group of boys, described by Patryk as a "flock of wild goats," pays a price for their willingness to follow the rules of Jurek's reckless game. The culminating scene in a forest blurs the lines between the "button war" and the real war raging around them. VERDICT Avi has written a compelling and tautly constructed book that is a portal to grappling with the complexity of the human instinct to compete. Highly recommended.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA
When World War I descends upon a tiny Polish village, seven boys launch their own deadly battle for the right to be crowned king of the land.While playing in the woods, 12-year-old narrator Patryk finds a button, but his friend Jurek claims that it belongs to him. The rusty button becomes the inspiration for Jurek's latest scheme. Whoever can obtain the best button can claim sovereignty over the village and rule over the others. Despite their apprehension at Jurek's fervency, they all agree to the terms. As the bombs fall and the troops arrive, the eponymous conflict begins. But Patryk soon finds that Jurek is willing to do whatever it takes to claim the prize. Stealing, espionage, and murder are all fair in war. While the message is clear—there are no winners in war—the story's lack of true heroism leaves readers with little hope for a better world. Fans of The Lord of the Flies and readers ready to plumb ambiguity will respond to the dark themes. Diversity is limited to nationality and class. German, Russian, Austrian, and British soldiers flood the town, and the boys, while all Polish, differ in standing. Jurek, an orphan, is one of the poorest in town, while the other boys are sons of artisans, teachers, and local politicians.Bleakly demonstrates that war, no matter its scale, is devastating. (Historical fiction. 10-13)
Told from Patryk’s point of view, the novel captures the ways that war can forever alter a child’s sense of order, morality, and security in the world. Strongly visual scenes, including the smoky forest after battle, the soldiers marching in perfect formation, and a chilling final image of Jurek, will long resonate in readers’ minds.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
”Reminiscent of Slaughterhouse-Five and Lord of the Flies, Avi’s The Button War is an important and honest book that crowns no heroes. Instead, it shines a light on how easily we believe what we want to believe, confusing dictators for leaders and ignoring our own best selves in the process. If children are to understand the world’s problems, they need to face them—and their own motives—with clear eyes and open minds. The Button War will help them do that. But it is a cautionary tale that will surely provoke introspection in readers of all ages and help us see how to evolve beyond our primitive thirst for power and glory.”
—Lauren E. Wolk, author of Wolf Hollow, a Newbery Honor Book, and Beyond the Bright Sea
Avi has written a compelling and tautly constructed book that is a portal to grappling with the complexity of the human instinct to compete. Highly recommended.
—School Library Journal
Although some readers will simply hang on the drama of Avi’s simple and unnervingly tense plot, most will recognize this as a powerful anti-war allegory...The final scene in which “winner” Jurek crows in triumph that he’s “Jurek the Brave! King of everything!” over a ruined and emptying village hauntingly exposes the universal vacuity of bullies and their enablers, whether in middle-school hallways or on a battlefield.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The award- winning Avi has turned in another solid performance, bringing history alive with a clever plot, a powerful, anti-war theme, and characters as memorable as his story.
Fans of The Lord of the Flies and readers ready to plumb ambiguity will respond to the dark themes...Bleakly demonstrates that war, no matter its scale, is devastating.
Avi’s short, staccato sentences read eerily like troops crossing the page, building dread with every chapter, leading inexorably to tragedy. Readers are left with the consequences of one boy refusing to speak up and thus allowing an unstable leader to run amok.
—The Horn Book
In this arresting, unsettling novel for 9- to 14-year-olds...the author is so sparing with description and language, and the lines of dialogue are so clipped and abrupt, that the story feels both real and like a dread allegory.
—The Wall Street Journal
Possibly [Avi’s] finest work yet, The Button War is a classic.