A boy, accompanied by his father, searches for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Together, they run their hands along the black, reflective surface, fingers tracing the names of the fallen. The boy sees the mementos left at the base of the wall and watches other visitors as they come and go. With his father, the boy finds his grandfather’s name and learns new lessons about grief, sacrifice, and honor. As the pair turn to go, the boy thinks to himself that he is proud that his grandfather’s name is on the Wall, but his last words reflect the deep sense of loss and regret that the Memorial inspires in each of us. “I’d rather have him here.”
I love this book for so many reasons. I chose it because Veteran’s Day is coming up and I wanted to see how picture books handle a topic as sensitive as war. This book finds such a great balance between honoring our fallen soldiers, cherishing their memory, and mourning both the personal and national loss of so many good and too often young lives when nations go to war. I love the descriptions of the Wall, the people, the gloomy autumn day, the father running his hands over and over the name of his dead father. I cannot read this book without crying.
Let’s talk about my daughters’ reactions. My four year old was a total buzz kill, just complaining the whole time that it wasn’t more entertaining. Oh well. But my two year old was a little more sensitive. Before we started reading, she took a good look at the cover picture and asked me why the father and son were so sad. Perfect reaction, and just what a book like this should inspire- questions and discussions about real, deep emotions that are difficult to discuss in the normal course of a two-year-old’s life. It brings things up that are normally not brought up and allows us to discuss them in the context of a story about believable but imaginary characters. My seven year old was also curious and asked lots of questions, and we had some great discussions about the cost of war and the importance of making sure that what you’re fighting for is worth that cost. Conclusion: this will never be a bedtime favorite, but I would recommend it a thousand times over for anyone and everyone.
See if this book is at your local library at world cat.com.
See a great article about Eve Bunting with links to lists of her other books here.
To learn more about illustrator Ronald Himler, visit his website.