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War and Its Aftermath

By Barbara A. Ward
 | Oct 31, 2016

War and its aftermath can be hard to tackle in the classroom. Rather than glorifying military might, many recently published books for young people highlight the enormous costs of conflicts, whether they occur in a small region or globally. And sometimes, courage and heroism can come in small packages—and even on four feet.

Ages 4–8

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (with Tuan Ho). Ill. Brian Deines. 2016. Pajama Press.

adrift at seaAfter the U.S. military left South Vietnam, many Vietnamese who had befriended Americans were worried about their fate. They were so desperate for safety that some took huge risks to leave the region. In this visually stunning picture book—the first to explore this troubling time—readers learn of the dangerous journey taken by 6-year-old Tuan Ho and his family in 1981. Slipping away under cover of darkness, the family ends up on an overcrowded fishing boat that breaks down, leaving them stranded and suffering from thirst and punishing heat for four days before being rescued by an American aircraft carrier. The evocative text and powerful illustrations, painted with oils, enable readers to feel as though they, too, are refugees adrift at sea during this risky journey to freedom. Back matter includes family photographs, showing Tuan Ho’s family then and now, as well as a brief discussion of the events that led to the family's flight from Vietnam to Canada.

The Three Lucys. Hayan Charara. Ill. Sara Kahn. 2016. Lee & Low.

the three lucysLuli, a young Lebanese boy, worries about his three cats, Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy. He and his family are unable to return to their home on the border between Lebanon and Israel during bombing raids between the Israelis and Hezbollah, so they seek refuge with Uncle Adel and Aunt Layla in Beirut. When the family returns home after a month, Luli is heartbroken by the loss of one beloved feline. As he watches his town being rebuilt and mourns his lost cat, Luli finds joy in remembering her and imagining a world in which there are no wars and no wartime casualties. The text and watercolor illustrations of this story, based on the experiences of the author’s family in Lebanon during the July War of 2006, perfectly depict this confusing time and Luli’s feelings about what he has lost.

Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and His Service Dog. Luis Carlos Montalván (with Bret Witter). 2016. Post Hill.

tuesday takes me thereThis stunning photo essay follows veteran Luis Montalván and his service dog, Tuesday, on a typical day. Using various forms of transportation, the two travel from Staten Island to Manhattan and across New York City, on to Washington, DC, and finally to Maryland for a visit to a library. Because the story is told from Tuesday’s point of view, it is easy to see the trust and affection between the golden retriever and Luis as they embrace new experiences and navigate busy streets. In a vivid reminder that, for many, war doesn’t end when the battles are over, readers observe how Tuesday helps Luis cope with PTSD from his time in Iraq. The book, which features colorful photographs throughout, casts their journey as a mission. The book ends with the two companions sharing their story to an enraptured storytime audience. Pair this book with Montalván’s Tuesday Tucks Me In (2014).

Ages 9–11

Paws of Courage: True Tales of Heroic Dogs That Protect and Serve. Nancy Furstinger. 2016. National Geographic.

paw of courageHeroes come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes those heroes have fur coats and four paws. In this photo-filled volume, readers meet 22 dogs that have served their country during wartime or during peacetime, sniffing out drugs, locating bombs, and finding lost individuals. Describing how dogs suited to this particular type of work are identified and trained, the book also makes note of the strong bond that often exists between war and service dogs and their human companions. Readers will be touched by the stories featuring Bretagne, one of the canines that searched for survivors at the World Trade Towers in 2001; Layka, a Belgian Malinois that saved the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan; and Mas, a Newfoundland that leaps from helicopters to rescue drowning swimmers. Providing a different perspective on our furry friends, the book also includes historical notes about other dogs that have been celebrated for their feats of courage.

Ages 12–14

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. John Boyne. 2016. Henry Holt.

the boy at the top of the mountainAfter the deaths of his parents, 7-year-old Pierrot Fischer moves from Paris to an orphanage and then to the Austrian retreat of Adolf Hitler, where his paternal Aunt Beatrix is the housekeeper, in 1936. Because of his desire to please, Pieter becomes the Führer’s special pet, and he learns about power, arrogance, prejudice, and betrayal from Hitler’s example. Readers will watch in horror as Pieter transforms from a naïve, innocent child, grateful for the smallest attentions, into an adolescent who betrays those who have had only the best intentions for him and provided love and kindness during his time with the power-mad Hitler. Although the book's ending shows that Pieter has learned some important lessons, those lessons come far too late to atone for his actions.

The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War II. Michael P. Spradlin. 2016. Scholastic.

the enemy aboveAs the Germans move irrevocably closer, 12-year-old Anton Bielski and the remaining members of his family seek refuge in a cave near their small Ukrainian village, but their safety does not last. Major Karl Von Duesen, who has made his career on the basis of rounding up Jews, captures Anton's beloved grandmother, the fierce and outspoken Bubbe, and two others hiding in the cave. Anton concocts a risky plan to rescue them. Told from the alternating perspectives of Anton and the Major, the book offers insight into the characters’ thought processes. There are few books for middle graders about the war being fought on the Russian front during World War II, and this one effectively prompts readers to wonder about their own actions had they been faced with the might of the German army.

Vietnam: A History of the War. Russell Freedman. 2016. Holiday House.

vietnam a history of the warToday’s history textbooks spend little time on the divisive war that took place in the small country of Vietnam. This balanced account introduces readers to several important figures in Vietnam's complex history and chronicles the increasing involvement of United States. Drawing from newspaper and first-hand accounts of the war from the front lines and comments from insiders, Freedman covers the involvement of the United States, whose own soldiers weren’t sure why they were in Vietnam. Illustrated with archival photographs, the book contains many important stories and perspectives, including reflections on the U.S. military's last days in Vietnam, that offer a lens through which to consider some of this country’s more recent military action overseas.

Ages 15+

The Darkest Hour. Caroline Tung Richmond. 2016. Scholastic.

the darkest hourSixteen-year-old Lucie Blaise volunteers for the Office of Strategic Services during WWII after her brother Theo’s death. She joins a group of female spies in France who learn about a secret weapon being developed by the Nazis. The fast-paced novel is filled with action and suspense that will have readers feeling as though they are right alongside those young spies, racing through the fields, hiding in farmhouses, and crossing the mountains—and possibly leaving them speculating about a very different outcome of the war had the Nazis' secret plans succeeded. Theo's treasured letters to his sister offer a personal glimpse into the war and prompt readers to redefine the term heroism. As Lucie’s story concludes, she is a very different girl from the one readers meet at the start of the book, reminding them that war affects civilians as well as those on the front lines.

The Last Full Measure (Divided We Fall #3). Trent Reedy. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.

the last full measureDanny Wright, who accidentally started the Second American War in Boise, ID, is sick of fighting and tired of various sides trying to make him part of their propaganda machine. When he and his fiancée, JoBell Linder, go back home to Freedom Lake, they quickly realize that the leaders of the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, a group of vigilantes who opposed the federal government’s attempts at controlling the states, are racist and intolerant of anyone who disagrees with their values. Alongside his steadfast friends, Danny and more than 100 others flee to the Alice Marshall School, buried deep in the Idaho mountains. Their subsequent decision to liberate a nearby Brotherhood slave farm leads to unexpected consequences. Danny’s friends are the lucky ones, however. As the infrastructure of the country fractures, U.S. citizens begin starving to death, and priorities about what matters shift. Ultimately, Danny realizes that what matters most is loyalty to family and friends, being true to himself, and doing the right thing.

Poppy. Mary Hooper. 2016. Bloomsbury.

poppyFifteen-year-old Poppy Pearson leaves her life as a servant to a wealthy British family and joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914 as England plunges deeper into World War I. She is motivated to escape the feelings she has for Freddie, the younger son in the family, and to make her own contribution during the war while her brother Billy volunteers for military service. Although Poppy’s journey of self-discovery is intriguing in its own right, the story has added appeal because of its focus on the effects of war on both its combatants and those back home. As the body count mounts and the conflict rages on, wounded veterans fill the hospital beds where Poppy works, bringing with them terrible memories and extremely painful physical damages. Billy returns home but under suspicion for the actions that brought him there. The author’s thorough research is evident in every line, and readers can sense the social changes that are coming on the heels of this war. This is no celebration of the acts of courage or fighting the good fight or having a stiff upper lip; instead, readers are treated to the unsavory reality of war and how no one was left unscathed by this fierce global conflict. 

Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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