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The Button War
Candlewick Press 2018
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The Button War

A stark, unflinching tale of ordinary boys living in wartime as tensions—and desperations—mount among them.

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.


“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.” (Publishers Weekly)

“There are seven of them, Patryk reports: himself and six friends, all 11 or 12 years old; they aren’t a gang, he continues, but “more like a flock of wild goats.” They live in a small Polish village in the year 1914. Jurek is their de facto leader, boasting (falsely) that he is a descendant of Boleslaw the Brave, the ancient king of Poland. The boys’ lives change dramatically when an airplane appears and bombs their school, evidencing that war has come to the village. The occupying Russians flee in the face of a German advance. Meanwhile, another sort of war has come—a button war. For at Jurek’s instigation, the boys agree to steal buttons from the soldiers; the one with the best button will become king. But it’s an increasingly dangerous game as, one by one, the boys are killed. Who will survive to become “king?” 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.” (Michael Cart, Booklist)

“… the message is clear –there are no winners in war … demonstrates that war, no matter its scale, is devastating …” (Kirkus Reviews)


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