A student shared a quotation recently that caused me to reflect on the selections I was reading for this column. "The only to justify it
meaning warT is to glorify it after the fact." There have been a plethora of books for young readers on the topic of war and military intervention. In considering the area of historical fiction, it appears that much of the history of the 20th century is the story of war.
As I continued to read the many books on war published recently, I wondered if they did, indeed, justify and glorify the military combats that appear in picture books, fiction and nonfiction for younger readers. While putting together this short sampler of war stories, I tried to keep in mind the values that we want our children to attain regarding the countries involved in fighting. I found very few that did justify and glorify warfare and chose not to list any here that suggested triumph resulting from battle and bloodshed. Hopefully through the literature we can teach our youth that "freedom is worth fighting for" while portraying the destructive forces that come through prejudice, hatred and killing.JOSEPH PLUMB MARTIN: YANKEE DOODLE BOY: A Young Soldier's Adventures in the American Revolution Told by Himself, edited by George F. Scheer. Holiday House.
Said the editor of this book, "There is no other book just like Joseph Martin's. No other soldier, so far as historians know, wrote in so much valuable detail . . . at such great length about the life of the private of the Continental Army." Besides the narrative and diary told in good humor and accompanied by maps and diagrams, a glossary of terms and complete index make this a major of history for young readers.
ACROSS THE LINES by Carolyn Reeder, Atheneum.
Reeder ("Shades of Gray") has a keen interest in the Civil War. This novel, told through alternating voices of 12-year-old Edward and his young servant, Simon, deals with friendship, freedom and hostility. It is a powerful story that emotes courage and the choices needed to attain it.
AN ACQUAINTANCE WITH DARKNESS by Ann Rinaldi, Harcourt/Gulliver Great Episodes.
This story is set at the close of the Civil War where devastation is felt through the death of a parent to the battle, another to consumption and a brother running away to Canada. There is an underlying story of the struggle doctors faced in obtaining cadavers to do research. Winding through these themes of war and medicine are the politics of President Lincoln's assassination. Rinaldi's research is impeccable and readers will appreciate her ability to balance fact and fiction.
Two books published in 1998 are photo essays about groups that participated in the Civil War. NEVER WERE MEN SO BRAVE: THE IRISH BRIGADE DURING THE CIVIL WAR by Susan Provost Beller (Simon & Schuster/McElderberry Books) follows the family of Thomas Francis Meagher, one of the leaders of the 1848 Irish rebellion against the English, who escaped exile in Australia to come to America, where he organized a unit to fight the Union. Many sketches and black-and-white prints from the Library of Congress attest to the authenticity of this volume.
BLACK, BLUE & GRAY: AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE CIVIL WAR by Jim Haskins, Simon & Schuster. Haskins is winner of many research awards for his writing. This should be another. "Black, Blue & Gray" is the story of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and civil rights leader, and how he urged black men to take an active part in the battle of the North and the South. Broadsides and prints accompanying a carefully worded text make this an excellent read for elementary and middle-grade students. I particularly liked the chronology, extensive bibliography and index.
SACRED SHADOWS by Maxine Rose Schur (Dial) is a bridge between World War I, where Lena Katz's father is killed, to the new movement and the ideas of a man named Hitler. This is a coming-of-age story based on the author's own family history. A powerful book for young adult readers.
The majority of the books on the theme of war are about the period surrounding World War II. HIDING FROM THE NAZIS by David Adler (Holiday House) is a picture book about a four-year-old Jewish child who was separated from her parents and sent into hiding in secret rooms and under assumed names. Karen Ritz's watercolor paintings add much to this sensitive true story of Lore Baer.
Three autobiographical accounts of the Resistance are HOSTAGE TO WAR: A TRUE STORY by Tatjana Wassiljewa, translation by Anna Trenter (Scholastic); Hanneke Ippisch's SKY; and I HAVE LIVED A THOUSAND YEARS by Livia Bitton-Jackson (both by Simon & Schuster). These are stories of teenage girls each in a different country - Soviet Union, Hungary and Holland. One example from "I Have Lived a Thousand Years" represents the tenor of all three memoirs, "All night we stand with freshly shaven heads, wet bodies . . . The old wound in my right leg is throbbing . . . I'm unable to stand on that leg . . . I crouch against the wall of the barrack near Mommy . . . I drape an arm about her skeletal shoulders and huddle close to keep us warm . . . The filtering light of dawn brings our German masters . . . We have survived the night . . . I help Mommy up into the boxcar . . . A sense of triumph overwhelms the anguish. I have won."
STONE IN WATER by Donna Jo Napoli (Dutton) is the story of an Italian boy that is forced to work for the German war effort until he escapes into the Ukraine.
THE GARDEN and AFTER THE WAR, both by Carol Matas (Simon & Schuster) are stories of a 15-year-old girl. In the first she is released from Buchenwald at the end of World War II and leads a group of children to Palestine. The second book describes the efforts of the Haganah, a group trying to establish the State of Israel - still a story of war.
BAT 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff (Scholastic) portrays the after-effects of war. Told in alternating voices of 20 sixth-grade girls who make up the softball teams of Bear Creek Ridge and Barlow, two small towns in Oregon. When Aki Yaka-moto rejoins the group after her Japanese family's interment by the U.S. government, a teammate, Shazam, is resentful because she lost her father at Pearl Harbor. While many themes exist in "Bat 6," the tension of war is evident and explores the timelessness of prejudice and hatred, even long after the war has ended.
MEMORIES OF ANNE FRANK: REFLECTIONS OF A CHILDHOOD FRIEND by Alison Leslie Gold (Scholastic). Gold is the author of the adult work "Anne Frank Remembered," which is a study of the Miep Gies diary. While this is written with a young adult audience in mind, it certainly is a book that will help all readers understand the life, survival and death during the "war to end all wars."