Although I grew up in a small town which has always had a parade on Memorial Day and rode my tricyle and marched as a Brownie in the parade, I had little idea of what Memorial Day was about. Now, each May, I observe Memorial Day as a time to remember the sacrifices, made by so many and to renew a commitment to educate children to seek other means than conflict to resolve differences. This month I'll highlight works through which children can gain a deeper understanding of the consequences of war and the experiences of the people whose lives were forever altered and somtimes ended by those wars.
Younger children can begin to appreciate the concept of a memorial and middle grade children will appreciate some of the artistic decisions which determine the form of a memorial after watching the Reading Rainbow videotape of The Wall . Eve Bunting's picture book (Clarion, 1990) movingly read by Jason Ruggiero conveys both respect for those who served in that war and regret for the personal loss suffered by so many. An interview with Maya Lin who designed the memorial will give viewers of any age a new perspective on the memorial and a much deeper understanding of how it touches us (GPN, 1992; $39.95: gr. k-5).
Decoration Day which became Memorial Day began after after the American Civil War. Till Victory is Won: Black Soldiers in the Civil War by Zak Mettger (Lodestar, 1994; $16.99; ISBN 0-525-67412-8; gr. 4-8) part of the "Young Readers' History of the Civil War" series is a handsome and involving volume covering Afro-American participation in the army and navy during that war. Numerous insets give information which expands the narrative and period illustrations and photographs add greatly to the reader's sense of the war period and the men who fought so bravely for their freedom despite lower pay and lower status than that afforded to white soldiers. Paul Fleischman's Bull Run offers a fictional view of the Civil War focused on one battle. Short chapters told from many points of view allow readers to imagine the experience of soldiers and officers on both sides, family members, a photographer, a doctor, and other people invoved in the battle. Children in grades 5-9 reading this as "reader's theatre" are bound to have an increased awareness of that war (HarperCollins, 1993; $14; ISBN 0-06-021446-5).
Some Afro-American veterans of the Civil War continued to serve in the armed forces and many became part of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments later known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Clinton Cox writes of their decades spent fighting both the Native American peoples whose last land was being usurped by the United States government and the outlaws who preyed on settlers in the west. Cox manages to make the reader sympathetic to both the soldiers and the Native Americans and to see the irony of men newly free fighting to take away the freedom of others. The Forgotten Heroes: The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers (Scholastic, 1993; $14.95; ISBN 0-590-45121-9; gr. 6 up).
Books related to World War II, especially the Holocaust, still dominate the arena of war related books. Any child who has read The Diary of Anne Frank will want to read Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven (Viking, 1994; $17; ISBN 0-670-84932-4; gr. 4 up) and it will probably lead many children to the Diary as well. Photographs and text answer many of the questions readers may have about Anne, her family and their life in hiding. While the Diary gives readers unforgetable images of the Secret Annex and its occupants, these photographs enable readers to clearly see what each person looked like and to appreciate how similar Anne's childhood was to their own before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. A hero of World War II known to too few children is Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swede whose courage and resourcefulness was instrumental in saving more than 100,000 Jews in Hungary from the Nazis. Sharon Linnea's very readable account of his life, Raoul Wallenberg: the Man Who Stopped Death (Jewish Publication Society, 1993; $17.95 [$9.95 paper]; ISBN 0-8276-0440-8; gr. 5-10) introduces him to middle school readers whose interest may be sparked by a comparison to Schindler's List. Posing as a Swedish diplomat while working for the United States War refugee Board in Budapest, Wallenberg challenged and outwitted Adolph Eichmann. When the Russians liberated Budapest they took Wallenberg away to a still unknown fate. Another young person who gave her life in a tragically failed attempt to save Hungarian Jewry was Hannah Senesh. Candice F. Ransom's So Young to Die: the Story of Hannah Senesh (Scholastic, 1993; $2.95 [paper]; ISBN 0-590-44677-0; gr. 5-9) tells her story well. Readers of Safe Harbors by Renee Roth-Hano will gain perspective on some of the lasting affects of war (Four Winds Press, 1993; $16.95; ISBN 0-02-777795-2; gr. 5-10. Roth-Hano tells of her year in America after surviving the war in France by posing as a Catholic. Her amazement at seeing matzoh sold openly in stores and hearing Sid Caesar use Yiddish terms on television makes readers more aware of the fear under which European Jews lived after WWII. Roth-Hano's youthful concerns such as romance and family disputes make it possible for today's teens to easily relate to her. Readers could compare this book to other accounts of the war's aftermath such as Aranka Seigal's Grace in the Wilderness (FS&G, 1985), Judith Kerr's The Other Way Round (Coward, 1975), Sonia Levitin's Silver Days (Macmillan, 1989), and Johanna Reiss's The Journey Back (Crowell, 1976). Older readers will find themselves engrossed in the mystery of Becca's grandmother's past as Jane Yolen meshes the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale with a story of Holocaust survival and resistance in Briar Rose (Tor, 1992; $4.99 paper; ISBN 0-812-55862-6; gr. 9 up). The truth unfolds layer by layer as Becca traces the scanty clues of her grandmother's past just as the thorn-covered branches in the folk-tale gave way for the prince.
Despite the world's hopes for peace after the break-up of the Soviet Union, war is today part of many peoples' daily lives. Not all wars are declared. In Grab Hands and Run by Frances Temple (Orchard, 1993; $; ISBN 0-531-08630-5; gr. 4-9) Felipe, his mother, and his sister flee El Salvador after his father's disappearance and slowly make their way to Canada. Temple uses the child's point of view skillfully not belaboring the Salvadoran political situation but showing what seeking asylum in lands not your own is like. Middle grade classes might search news data bases for articles on immigration and asylum and debate the issues involved. Zlata's Diary gives a contemporary account of the impact of the war still being fought in Sarajevo on the life and emotions of its young author Zlata Filipovic (Viking, 1994; $16.95; ISBN 0-670-85724-6; gr.4 up. With entries up to October 17, 1993, there is an immediacy which connects readers to the fighting and the tragedy of lives lost and a culture torn apart by a war to which the victims have little connection. Zlata does not consider the distinctions made among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians important yet the "kids" (politicians) relentlessly continue fighting one another. Children might take the date of a daily entry and compare the newpaper accounts of the war for that date. Zlata's very individual view of the war in the former Yugoslavia gives a very different perspective from that of Separated by War: An Oral History By Desert Storm Fliers and Their Families by Ed Herlik. This is not a polished work, but just what the title indicates -- oral history. Much of what is related has to do with equipment and action. The narrative gives a real sense of the American men and women putting their lives on the line however superior their weaponry and numbers were( TAB, 1994; $24.95; ISBN 0-8306-4481-4; gr.10 up).
Teachers using war literature with middle grade classes will want to have Phyllis K. Kennemer's Using Literature to Teach Middle Grades About War ( Oryx, 1993; $29.95 [paper]; ISBN 0-89774-778-X; adult). Kennemer gives detailed, useful suggestions for units on the American Revolution, Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, and Gulf War along with annotated suggestions of dozens of fiction and non-fiction titles. Reading these books, in the words of Maya Lin (describing the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial), "allows you a place where you don't necessarily glorify war but you do honestly remember and honor the people."
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