Twelve-year-old Patryk knows little of the world beyond his tiny Polish village; the Russians have occupied the land for as long as anyone can remember, but otherwise life is unremarkable. Patryk and his friends entertain themselves by coming up with dares — some more harmful than others — until the Germans drop a bomb on the schoolhouse and the Great War comes crashing in. As control of the village falls from one nation to another, Jurek, the ringleader of these friends, devises the best dare yet: whichever boy steals the finest military button will be king. But as sneaking buttons from uniforms hanging to dry progresses to looting the bodies of dead soldiers — and as Jurek’s obsession with being king escalates — Patryk begins to wonder whether their “button war” is still just a game. When devastation reaches their doorstep, the lines between the button war and the real war blur, especially for the increasingly callous Jurek. Master of historical fiction Avi delivers a fierce account of the boys of one war-torn village who are determined to prove themselves with a simple dare that spins disastrously out of control.
The Button War: A Tale of The Great WarFeatured
The Button War
Twelve-year-old Patryk lives in a small Polish town in 1914. He hangs with his group of friends which includes Jurek. One day in August, Patryk finds a button which sets Jurek off in rage. Though Jurek is poor, he declares himself 'King of the Forest' and anything in the forest is his. This sets off a button war. Who ever gets the best button of a Russian soldier, will be king of the forest. Then war comes to his town and the game goes from stealing buttons off the laundry line of Russian soldiers to taking them from dead soldiers bodies. Jurek is set on becoming the King of the Forest and will do just about anything to get the best button even if that might lead to deadly consequences for the rest of the group.
What worked: Think Stand by Me meets Lord of the Flies set in a small Polish town during WW1. The so-called competitive game of getting the best button starts from cutting them off the laundry of Russian soldiers to taking them from dead soldiers bodies. The scenes of war are horrific with vivid details of the boys stumbling on some Russian soldiers after they had been ambushed by Germans. Also the bombing of a school house and one classmate who is engulfed with flames is equally disturbing. Yes, this reading is uncomfortable at times, but that makes it real. But what gives this book a Lord of the Flies feel has to be Jurek and his insistence on being lord over his friends to the point that he will do just about anything for that title.
Jurek is more of a frenemy of Patryk. He's also the poorest of the group of friends. Patryk at first ignores the troubling behavior of Jurek until it's almost too late. He doesn't want Jurek to be over their small group, so he takes on the challenge to find the best button.
The Button War is symbolic of the war that invades their small village with the horror and devastation it leaves behind. The author doesn't hold back on the destruction and dead of war.
Gritty, raw, coming of age historical novel that takes place in 1941 right at the start of WW1 and the deadly consequences of a game that goes too far.