Niki Walker, the author of "Why Do We FIght?," has to answer questions about war from her own son, Jack, who heard about Syria on the radio. (Vanessa Palmateer)

Why Do We Fight? Conflict,
War, and Peace

by Niki Walker, 80 pages, $16.95.

Jack Wiwcharyk is bugging his mom about something he heard on the radio. The first-grader says his parents listen to a lot of public radio.

“Talk, talk, talk,” Jack says during a phone conversation with him and mom Niki Walker last week from their home near Toronto in Canada. “I don’t understand all of it.”

What he didn’t understand were reports that the United States and other countries may attack Syria, a country in the Middle East, because they think Syria used poison gas on civilians, including children. Other countries and many Americans are against an attack, and the arguments fly back and forth on the radio, in newspapers and maybe in your house, too.

“Why is there war, anyway?” Jack wondered.

The question is difficult for kids — and adults — but he is asking the right person.

Niki Walker has a new book called “Why Do We Fight? Conflict, War, and Peace.” It’s written for 10-to-14-year-olds, and it starts with big ideas about war and peace, and in the end leads kids to think about conflicts with sisters or brothers, at school, at home — anywhere.

“I did not write a book that [says] we just hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ peace songs, and everything will be okay,” said Walker, 40, who has written 20 books for kids and edited more than 100 others.

Both of her grandfathers served in the Army in World War II and helped free people who were held in Nazi prison camps. Jack’s grandparents on his dad’s side of the family survived the Nazi invasion of the area that is now the country of Ukraine.

“Human beings are in conflicts for real reasons,” Walker says. “Kids hear about this all the time, but do they know how to ask the right questions to understand what happens in the world around them?”

She doesn’t think so, and she says it doesn’t help that schools and libraries are filled with kids’ books about wars and battles. As youngsters grow into teenagers, often they’re drawn to video games that seem to reward kids who kill the most bad guys.

To have a book on peace is a step toward helping kids think on their own now and throughout their lives, she says.

In six chapters filled with simple drawings and charts, Walker defines conflict — whether a war, protests, strikes, criminal activity or even a schoolyard tussle — and explains how they may start and eventually end. She also raises interesting questions.

Land, water and food are scarce (that means not available to everyone) in most of the world, the book says. Billions of people are affected. How well do people share in each country or neighborhood, Walker asks. Do people who don’t have things consider that a reason to fight with those who do?

In a democracy, people can vote and have control over their governments. But do people in democratic countries have access to the truth? And can they make government respond to needs fairly?

What about people who are taught to hate one another, Walker asks. Some kids grow up in a society or a home where they learn to distrust or hate others without ever knowing them face to face. Should wars be fought over what people believe, their religion or skin color?

“There are deep roots in many conflicts,” Walker says. “If youngsters understand that on their own and think it through on their own, they’ll grow up to face conflict bravely and with hope.”

“I don’t understand all this,” Jack says, pausing. “But it’s like at school sometimes, when kids hit each other. I don’t hit anybody. Hitting is so last year.”

— Raymond M. Lane