Monday, February 28, 2022


By Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv


Translated by Oksana Lushchevska


(First published by Vydavnytstvo Staroho Leva (The Old Lion Publishing House), Ukraine, 2015)


(Published in English by Enchanted Lion Books, 2021)


Children’s picture books about war are tricky. How do you introduce such a grave topic without scaring the reader? What do you portray in the pictures? How dark? How realistic? What’s too little, what’s too much?


This book was published in Ukrainian in 2015, the year after the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and while the Russo-Ukrainian War continued, with a focus on the Donbas region. Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv are a husband-and-wife team who live in Lviv, Ukraine and the credits at the back of the book note that, “This book was motivated by the arrival of war in Ukraine in their own lifetime.” 


It’s by chance that I have this incredibly timely book in my hands. I’d read a book review in The New York Times back in the fall and searched online for it at the Vancouver Public Library which didn’t carry the title. I contacted the library to request that they purchase it for their collection. I picked it up three weeks ago. What a difference between last fall and now, even between three weeks ago and now.


When I picked up the book, I hugged it. The cover is gorgeous in both color and design, red poppies popping against a muted teal background, the title in bold black font, two small images of conflict drawn in black ink—one a deployed missile sticking out of the ground, the other a rudimentary, cartoonish depiction of a tank firing at a house aflame. These two images, however, appear to be overwhelmed by the poppies.


The creators set the story in the fictional town of Rondo, presumably named after “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March), the last movement of Mozart’s Sonata No. 11, which, we are told is the town’s anthem. Rondo is an idyllic, arty place with clean air and well-tended parks and gardens. The town’s showcase is its Music Greenhouse where colorful, exotic flowers bloom and sing joyously at dawn each day and during concerts which draw attendees from near and far. (I didn’t notice until later in the book that these flowers are depicted with faces in side profile.)


Romanyshyn and Lesiv choose to tell their story based on a friendship between three characters: Danko, a human-esque figure, shaped and aglow like a lightbulb; Fabian, a red balloon dog; and Zirka, a tall, slender Origami bird made from a forest-themed, patterned paper print. 


The title makes it obvious what is going to happen to this gem of a town.


In Rondo, it was a day like any other. People were rushing about, doing their usual business. Danko was on his way to meet his friends. Zirka had just returned from a trip and had lots of new stories and drawings. The sun was shining, and the flowers and birds were singing. Everything seemed normal, until all went completely still.


And a whisper arose…


WAR is coming to Rondo.


The scenes that follow are portrayed with dark gray backgrounds. All weaponry is drawn in black and gray. Black flowers and “dry, spiked weeds” become the predominant plant life. The three friends are injured—Danko from a rock to the chest, Fabian from a thorned plant piercing his leg and Zirka from sparks which singe her wings. The singing flowers don’t fare well either. The injuries are enough to cause concern for a reader but, hopefully, not so dire as to spawn nightmares. Frankly, I don’t think there’s enough told about the three friends for a reader to become greatly attached to them. This probably wasn’t by design, but it turns out to be a good thing.


War, of course, doesn’t emerge victorious in a children’s book. Rondo rises up. In the end, the town returns to its ways while looking slightly less idyllic. Even after achieving peace, war has taken something. Rondo’s outdoor spaces are now dotted with the poppies shown on the cover. 


This is not a perfect book. It’s a tough subject. Still, it’s worth sharing, especially since it’s been created by Ukrainians in the midst of Russo-Ukrainian conflict.