Monday, May 27, 2013

For Memorial Day...Children's Books about War

by Susan Berger

From Wickipedia:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service

In Honor of the holiday here are some children’s books about war. I list them in chronological order of the wars they depict.

American Revolution:

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier.

     The story of one family torn apart by the Revolutionary War. All his life, Tim Meeker has looked up to his brother Sam. Sam's smart and brave -- and is now a part of the American Revolution. Not everyone in town wants to be a part of the rebellion. Most are supporters of the British -- including Tim and Sam's father.
      With the war raging, Tim knows he'll have to make a choice -- between the Revolutionaries and the Redcoats - and between his brother and his father.
     This classic novel, published in 1974, is a Newbery Honor book that was also named an ALA Notable Children's Book and nominated for a National Book Award in 1975. The ALA reports that My Brother Sam is Dead was the twelfth most frequently challenged book in the period from 1990 to 2000, and the 27th most challenged book from 2000 to 2009.
      My son Chris was assigned My Brother Sam in two separate school systems. He loved it.

The Civil War

Pink and Say by  Patricia Polacco
Say Curtis describes his meeting with Pinkus Aylee, a black soldier, during the Civil War, and their capture by Southern troops. Based on a true story about the author's great-great-grandfather.

Under Siege!: Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg by Andrea Warren 

Meet Lucy McRae and two other young people, Willie Lord and Frederick Grant, all survivors of the Civil War’s Battle for Vicksburg. In 1863, Union troops intend to silence the cannons guarding the Mississippi River at Vicksburg – even if they have to take the city by siege. To hasten surrender, they are shelling Vicksburg night and day. Terrified townspeople, including Lucy and Willie, take shelter in caves – enduring heat, snakes, and near suffocation. On the Union side, twelve-year-old Frederick Grant has come to visit his father, General Ulysses S. Grant, only to find himself in the midst of battle, experiencing firsthand the horrors of war.

World War I

Well, my personal favorite is Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. 
This is the last book in the Anne of Green Gable series and I cannot tell you how many times I've read it. It is a clear and touching picture of the home front in Canada.

Rilla of Ingleside  is available as a free eBook from Project Guttenberg

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo 
The terrible ravages of World War I as seen through the eyes of a Calvary horse. This book became a Tony Award winning play using puppeteers for the horse. Kathleen Kennedy was so moved by the play that she and Steven Spielberg made a movie of it. The movie is good, but can’t touch the power of the play.

World War II
by Eve Bunting, illustrations Steven Gammell

The Holocaust. Nobody can write a picture book about the Holocaust for kids. Right? Wrong! The incredible Eve Bunting can write about any subject for kids. The title link above is to GoodReads, but Terrible Things has been animated on VimeoPlease watch it. Her language is simple, yet lyrical, the illustrations are beautiful and the book is a reminder of what can happen if we are not vigilant.

Last Page in the Diary by Colleen L Reece 
Thirteen-year-old Patricia (Pat) Kelly bargains with God. If He will bring her best friend Mike (Yoshi Mizuki) home from a desert prison camp and make things like they were before the war, maybe she can start trusting Him again. The war ends, but hate and persecution continue.

Modern War
Off to War by Deborah Ellis
What does it feel like to be left behind? To watch someone you love put themselves into danger on a regular basis? To find that the person who left is not always the same person who comes back? Author Deborah Ellis systematically speaks to a wide swath of soldiers’ children, always coming back to the same questions. What does your parent do? How long have they been gone? How much do you miss them? The reader never reads Ellis’s questions, only the responses of the kids.
(Spanish Edition: El Primo de Ebeneezerby Kristen Zajac, Illustrated by Jennifer Thomas Houdeshell

Maria Jimenez and her dad share many things including a passion for going to see the monkeys at their local primate sanctuary. But when Maria's father returns home from military service with an injury, how will she find a way to help him recapture his spirit and independence?

 And, by the same author:

Chasing the Spirit of Service 
by Kristen Zajac, Illustrated by Julie Tucker
Emma comes from three generations of Air Force pilots and misses her father when he travels. Her best friend Adam tries to cheer her up. Emma's great grandfather, one of the first African American pilots during World War II, shares his life story with Emma and Adam and helps them appreciate the spirit of service.

Chasing the Spirit of Service was a 2011 Global eBook Award Winner, Multicultural Fiction. I love these two and bought both of them to share with my grandchildren.

Last but not least: One of our readers, Lynn Becker, mentioned  IN DARKNESS, by Nick Lake.

It didn't fit my theme, but I didn't want to leave it out.

The 2013 Printz winner is a beautifully written YA about gang war, and fighting for freedom from slavery in Haiti:

In Darkness is the story of "Shorty"-a 15-year-old boy trapped in a collapsed hospital during the earthquake in Haiti. Surrounded by the bodies of the dead, increasingly weak from lack of food and water, Shorty begins to hallucinate. As he waits in darkness for a rescue that may never come, a mystical bridge seems to emerge between him and Haitian leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, uniting the two in their darkest suffering-and their hope.

A modern teen and a black slave, separated by hundreds of years. Yet in some strange way, the boy in the ruins of Port au Prince and the man who led the struggle for Haiti's independence might well be one and the same.


  1. Good reading I had heard about War Horse
    but all the books look like a good read Sue

    1. Thanks, K.C. Check out that link for Terrible Things. It's a soft and chilling picture book.

  2. Thanks Susan, for sharing these children's books about war, its impact on families and veterans that kids can relate to and begin to understand -- as if anyone can ever understand war. I pray for this day to come:
    . . .and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:4)

  3. Good choices, but there are many more books for kids about war. It's too bad we've had to deal with so many. And I agree with Penelope.

    1. I know you are right, Janet. I didn't mention Diary of Ann Frank, among others, or Johnny Tremaine - still a favorite.

  4. Thanks Susan for researching all of these wonderful books. I loved reading about them all. You have displayed them beautifully and I appreciate you sharing them on this most special day.

    1. Thank you Susan for taking the time to read the post and comment. I really appreciate it.

  5. Thank you for creating this list. There may be many readers unaware of children's books which treat the subject of war (I certainly did not know of them). And as Janet says, there are many more books for kids about war.

    Books depict truths in a palatable fashion.

    1. I love that quote, Anjali. Books depict truths in a palatable fashion. Sometimes such books are very strong meat.

  6. Such a good post, and I love your choices of books, including some from GAP! Also, I want to thank you for showcasing my blog in your Popular Posts section! So appreciated.

    1. Thanks Nancy. Always a pleasure to read your blog.

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  8. Sue--

    Thanks for this in-depth list. They all look like fabulous reads. I want to read Pink and Say. Also, I didn't know there was an Anne of Green Gables book related to this. That was a surprise.


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