Here is the publisher’s description:
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 nest 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.
Here is a note from Avi about the book:
Many years ago, when my late father-in-law observed my young kids collecting baseball cards, he recalled growing up in Eastern Europe, when he and his friends collected (stole) uniform buttons from the ever-changing armies that passed through his village during World War I. That long-ago vignette was the basis for this book.
I think of this book as very different from my other books. Perhaps this will help to explain: When Graham Greene wrote the lm script for The Third Man (one of my favorite movies), he wrote it as a narrative. It was published that way and may be read as a novella. To some degree, I think of The Button War as a movie script, insofar that as I wrote I tried to visualize the book every bit of the way. (Usually I hear my books as I write.) A movie was not my intent, but in the sense that The Third Man was a movie script/novella, so too is The Button War.
Part of my research for this book was to look at many photographs of World War I. Newsreels too. I saw the boys as a real group. Watched them interact. Saw the world in which they lived — and its gradual destruction.
Moreover, I began to purchase the buttons (eBay!) and found them fascinating.
In short, this is a very real book to me.
In another Greene book, Our Man in Havana, he, for me, sums up what The Button War is:
“Childhood was the germ of all mistrust. You were cruelly joked upon and then you cruelly joked. You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.”
And, tada, here is the cover! Pretty intriguing, wouldn’t you say?