TORONTO - While the instinct of parents may be to shield kids from stories and imagery depicting the horrors of war, a new book seeks to help adults navigate the tricky territory of explaining global conflicts in an age-appropriate fashion.
In "Why Do We Fight?" (Owlkids Books), author Niki Walker takes a bare-bones approach to the root causes and dynamics of conflicts, exploring how differences over religious and political beliefs and battling over control for land and precious resources can escalate.
"I thought it was really important to bring that to kids, maybe more balance, to show them that there's factors involved," Walker said in a recent interview. "It seems sometimes like these things blow up overnight or they come out of nowhere, and that's not the case. If we can understand how they get to that point, it becomes a lot easier to think about how we solve them in different ways."
The Toronto-based author, mother to a six-year-old son, said many parents tend to shy away from discussions with kids about conflicts because they don't know how to accomplish the task without getting into the gruesome details.
Walker uses practical examples to help explain disputes and allow kids to draw parallels with their own lives.
The uneven distribution of slices of a cake, for example, is used to illustrate differences between the haves and have-nots and how conflicts can arise between those wielding considerable wealth, resources and power versus those who don't.
With the book geared towards 10- to 14-year-olds, Walker offers easy-to-understand definitions of keywords and concepts, such as the role of the UN, defining what distinguishes a revolution from a coup or invasion to exploring sanctions which may be imposed on a country.
There are also explanations of key historical events such as The Cold War, as well as a comprehensive timeline of the conflict in Afghanistan.
In the case of Afghanistan, Walker said it was important to highlight events that children would have remembered hearing on the news or perhaps discussed with their parents.
"The more that I dug into that conflict, I thought it was a really interesting one to highlight those deep roots," she said.
"When you watch the news, of course, there's little bits of coverage they can give you because they're limited in the time. They can't give you this whole gigantic backstory about how we got here," she added. "I wanted kids to have that."
Space is also devoted to exploring peace processes and efforts behind the scenes and on the front lines aimed at bringing an end to fighting.
Walker said she didn't want to the book to be naive in its approach to discussing the resolution process, acknowledging that there are key factors that need to be in place to begin working towards lasting peace. However, she said it's "easy to forget as adults" that conflicts don't always have to end in violence.
"Martin Luther King and Gandhi, to look at the circumstances that they were working (under), at the time, it would have seemed like impossible odds. To bring about the changes that they did non-violently is just staggering," Walker said.
"It gave me renewed hope that if there are enough people out there that have that faith and belief that we can do these things non-violently, if we make that a top priority in handling conflict, it's amazing what can be accomplished."
With global connections forged through trade and social media, Walker said "the world is shrinking," and the notion of being not being impacted by conflicts abroad is no longer the case.
"It's not really over there anymore. It does affect all of us in some way. I think that's an important thing to acknowledge," she said.
"There's a lot of talk these days about educating kids to be global citizens and that was definitely built into the book — that hope to have them recognize you're not just a citizen of your town or your country but you're part of this big world," she added.
"It's important that we understand how that large place that you are going to be in charge of some day, in some way, it's good to know how it works."