With young children in the house (our girls are 3, 6, and 8 ), we try to keep them away from the news. They are also sensitive and rather easily scared. However, sometimes you just can’t shield them from everything. We have friends in the military, friends whose dads are overseas, and a grandfather in the news business.
My girls are also fascinated with the American Girl dolls and books, and we are currently studying the American Revolution with our small homeschooling group. We had listened to the book on tape version of The Night Flyers (American Girl History Mysteries), and had briefly discussed other past wars and the current conflict. So, when the local librarian put out a display of war-themed books to honor Pearl Harbor Day, I picked up a few. We choose to focus on the homefront for now, as the front lines are too disturbing for the children in our house.
We introduced the subject with the book The War, by Anais Vaugelade. This is the story about a prince, two countries at war, and an attempt to end a long-standing war (”The war had lasted for so long that no one could remember why it had begun”). The title war is imaginary (it is between the reds and the blues, no real countries), but characters do die, so it is not treating the topic too lightly. This is overall a book that focuses on trying to get people together rather than continue a war, and the prince who doesn’t want to fight ends up as the hero. While this is not an easy subject to discuss, this book does an admirable job of assisting with the conversation. It definitely brought up several conversations here. The death in the book is sad but accidental, and it did not lead to nightmares, even with my very sensitive children.
Not long after listening to The Night Flyers, we read The Letter Home, by Timothy Decker is a simply illustrated book about a letter home from a father in WWI to his son. The boy waits for the letter, and the father (a WWI medic) writes home with postcard-sized sketches of his experience. The words are rather vague about the experience. You can either think of this as an invitation to explain more about WWI, a happy situation where you can sketch out as much as you feel comfortable about the messiness of war, or you can wait until your children are older and more able to understand the details of WWI that are danced around in the book. We chose the first two options, but can understand the third choice as well. It would be helpful to have some concept of WWI – but that can be detailed or simply an explanation of different technology. The idea of pigeon messengers instead of cell phones and email was a wonderful discussion in our house!
The next two books on the topic of war focus on the homefront of World War II – the first is more upsetting, the second more vague and heartwarming. I would suggest reading them in that order, as I’m not comfortable ending a reading session with an upsetting book.
We have friends whose grandmother was in one of the Interment Camps for Japanese Americans during WWII, and the book Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee is one of the few books I have seen on the subject. It isn’t a comfortable topic, but my children are very alert to discrimination, and were fascinated with this book. The book starts by explaining that the Camps weren’t like home or like overnight camp, but does so without going into sensational details. The narrator of Baseball Saved Us is a young boy who describes the situation – no one has a job or anything to do, so people are arguing. The boy’s father decides to build a baseball field, and others within the camp come together to work with him, as the man in the guardhouse watches. The narrator practices hard, and hits a home run, but it isn’t a pat ending. He goes back home from the Camp after the War, and he is still teased, but he manages to recreate some friendships through baseball.
Baseball Saved Us is a beautifully illustrated book about a disturbing topic. My daughters found it fascinating, and it is a book that would be of interest to boys and girls – especially any child who likes baseball! However, the subject matter is not an easy one, and while this is of great interest to adults, you need to be aware of how your children will react to the racism and teasing in the book. My kids were more worried about the boy being teased than anything else, but other children may take home a different message.
A much gentler discussion of the homefront during World War II is in Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. In the book, the mother leaves her daughter with the grandmother to earn money. Their discussion brings up the racism of the time: “They’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.” Ada Ruth (the young girl) writes letters to her mother as she waits with her grandmother and a kitten who has adopted them. She is disappointed each time the postman walks past their house without a letter from her mother, but her grandmother keeps her busy, and time passes. Finally the postman comes with a letter: “Money falling from it when Grandma steams it open and the first line – Tell Ada Ruth I’ll be coming on home soon“, and the joy in the face of the grandmother and Ada Ruth is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
All of these books will inspire conversation. Some of them will require explanations (ie: we don’t call people with dark skin colored now), and all are beautifully illustrated with words that spring to life. In our house, all of the children were interested in the books, but on different levels. The preschooler really just liked the pretty pictures. The eight year old was fascinated with the history, and the six year old picked up some from each level. Parts of the books were emotionally hard for me as the adult reader, but all were worth reading.