The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife9780670012091_p0_v1_s260x420The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Viking, Fiction, Jan. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes:  Father-daughter relationship,  Family problems, PTSD, Veterans

Book Jacket Synopsis: “For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both.  They move back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart. How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him?  What are you supposed to do when your father stops acting like an adult?”

Why I like this book: Laurie Halse Anderson’s heart-wrenching novel sensitively addresses the harsh reality of a family broken by war. Her plot is riveting and realistic. Her characters are well-developed with 17-year-old Hayley, an angry yet fragile teenager, who is dealing with very deep wounds — the death of her mother, abandonment by her father’s girlfriend, and parenting a father who suffers severe PTSD. She has watched her father go from the superhero soldier who made the world safe to the sobbing, raging and alcoholic father that she can’t depend upon. Hayley’s only school friend, Finn, brings some stability to her teenage life and the hope  she can believe in someone. Finn is a quirky character that provides the welcomed comic relief to the story. The book is a timely page turner with an unexpected twist at the end. The Impossible Knife of Memory will resonate with young people, but especially those dealing with parents suffering with PTSD.

Visit Laurie Halse Anderson at her website.

America’s White Table

America's White 9781585362165_p0_v2_s260x420America’s White Table

Margot Theis Raven, Author

Mike Benny, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, 2005

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Veterans Day, Remembering our fallen soldiers, Symbolism

Synopsis:  It is Veterans Day and Katie’s mother has invited her Uncle John for dinner.  She explains to Katie and her two sisters that they will  be setting a separate little table,  just like the ones that will be set in  Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy dining halls across America to honor the men and women who have served their country.  Mama gets out a white table-cloth,  a single empty  chair, a white plate, silver ware, a black napkin, an overturned glass, a white candle and a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon.  She explains the significance of each item on the table, and what it will mean to Uncle John.

Much to Katie and her sister’s surprise, they learn a special story about their favorite uncle from their mother.  Uncle John was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down over enemy territory.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).  Uncle John found an opportunity to escape and carried his wounded friend on his back to safety.  He was a hero.

Katie and her sisters are in awe when they hear the story.  Katie stares at the little white table and feels there is something missing.  The girls come up with a special idea and surprise their uncle at dinner.  Uncle John is moved beyond words by their loving gesture.

Why I like this book:  Once again I am sharing a book I reviewed several years ago before I had following.  This is an outstanding book that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.  It is a time to remember and honor those who are not with us.  I was delighted to find a book about this very simple, but deeply meaningful tradition observed by service members for over 35 years.  Few civilians are familiar with the symbolism.  It seemed the perfect book to share again on Veterans Day.  Raven tells a moving story, and at the end  provides a detailed history of the origin of the White Table and how it became a symbol of caring for our MIA and POW service members after the Vietnam War.  Benny’s subdued pastel paintings add to the mood of the solemn occasion that transcends generations.

Resource:  Click here to lean how to set America’s White Table.  Also visit Margot Theis Raven at her website.

Hero Mom

Hero Mom9781477816455_p0_v1_s260x420Hero Mom

Melinda Hardin, Author

Bryan Langdo, Illustrator

Amazon Children’s Publishing, Fiction, 2013

Suitable for Ages:  4-8

Themes:  Military Moms, Jobs, Military Families, Pride, Love, War

Opening“Our moms are superheroes.  My mom doesn’t leap over tall buildings — she builds them.”

Synopsis: The mothers in this book are heroes to their sons and daughters.  They fly helicopters, work with dogs to find missing people and dangerous objects, repair aircraft, trucks and tanks, heal patients,  and lead battalions.  They have two things in common.  They are American soldiers and they are moms.

Why I like this book:   This is a very positive and heartwarming book that introduces kids to the subject of what military Moms do while they are away serving our country.  It is very simple and emphasizes how proud the children are of the job their hero parents do to keep us safe.  Melinda Hardin has taken a tough subject of separation and put a positive spin on the subject.   I could easily see a military child taking this book to share at school.  Bryan Langdo’s pastel watercolors are friendly an engaging and capture a feeling of pride in each child.  Hardin also is the author of Hero Dad.  These are two great books to use in the classroom.

Resources:  Have children in class write thank you letters to deployed military soldiers.  All moms  and dads are super heroes.  Encourage the class to draw pictures about the jobs their parents do, regardless of whether or not they are military.  With Father’s Day around the corner, this would be a great activity.  Have children pack care packages for soldiers to show them how much you appreciate what they do.  I know it warms the hearts of soldiers to receive letters and packages from kids.  My grandson received care packages from school children.

Kirkus Review:  “An important message, delivered with effective straightforwardness and an abundance of heart.”

School Library Journal:  “The luminous watercolors make the difficult subject matter approachable for young children.

Hero Dad9780761457138_p0_v1_s260x420

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Remembering Our Fallen

Greg solo_Final_Page_05Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  For one day each year, our entire nation remembers our fallen soldiers.  This post is in memory of our grandson Army PFC Gregory Tilton,  a casualty of war in November 2009.  Our 20-year-old grandson was a boy soldier.   This is my way of honoring and remembering Greg’s loving and gentle spirit.

On this day I like to share information about very important organizations like the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and all the wonderful programs they have for the survivors — the children, siblings, spouses, parents, grandparents and family members — to help them move through the grief process.  When we first learned of our grandson’s death, TAPS was  available to our family.

This Memorial Day weekend, the families of America’s fallen heroes descend upon Washington D.C., to participate in National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors.  They gather in love, to celebrate the lives of their loved ones, share their journeys, learn coping strategies and find comfort in being together.   With the staggering increase in suicides in the military, attending a TAPS program can help with the stigma many loved ones feel.  They are there to support.

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Since I like to focus on healing for children, I want to share more about the USO/TAPS Good Grief Camp Outs for kids.  The camps are designed for kids between the ages of six and eighteen who have lost a parent or sibling who was serving in the military.  The camp outs are three days and two nights.  According to TAPS, they include traditional and military themed camp activities, grief education, and emotional support.   The camp is run by the TAP staff and military mentors.  This camp is the one place where children find comfort in knowing that there are other campers who understand what they are feeling and experiencing.  The kids also participate in fun outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, hay rides, campfires and much more.

This summer there will be four Good Grief Camp Out locations: Fort Bray/Camp Lejeune area, Fort Hood Fort Carson, and Camp Pendleton.   Please check our the TAPS website for more information about the Camp Out dates and registration, and about TAPS in general.  I highly recommend TAPS and the many programs they offer for adults and children.

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops

God Bless Our Troops9781442457355_p0_v1_s260x420Don’t Forget, Gold Bless Our Troops

Jill Biden, Author

Raúl Colón, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes:  Children of Military Personnel, Soldiers, Family Relationships

Opening“Does Daddy Really Have to Go?” “Daddy is a soldier,” Natalie’s mom answers in a quiet voice. “Soldiers have to do hard things sometimes.” She runs her hand through Natalie’s hair. Her father takes Natalie in his arms. “Home is wherever I’m with you!” he sings softly.

Synopsis:  Natalie’s father has been deployed overseas for a year and she misses him. She and her brother, Hunter, are supported by a loving mother and Nana. They celebrate holidays and help Natalie bake cookies and pack care packages to send to her father and other soldiers. Friendly neighbors bring them food, help shovel the sidewalks and mow the lawn. Her church family prays every Sunday for the many soldiers, including Natalie’s father. When Natalie prays at bedtime, she tells Nana, “And don’t forget, God bless out troops.” E-mails and video chats with her Dad make things a little easier, but it still isn’t the same as having him home.

Why I like this book: Second Lady Jill Biden has written a sensitive book based on the experiences of her granddaughter, Natalie, when her father is deployed to Iraq. She chronicles Natalie’s life and the strong bond with her brother and mother, family, neighbors, church, school and community. Biden’s book is heartfelt and approachable for kids. Military children will quickly relate to Natalie and Hunter. Raúl Colón’s illustrations give a sense of tenderness and emotion as he uses soft watercolors and colored pencils to show for some very special moments in the story. This book belongs in every school library.

Resources: Jill Biden offers four detailed pages of back matter at the end of the book  She includes an author’s note, information about the military, and tips for how children and adults can reach out to military families.  She includes many creative ideas and projects for families and teachers to use this book at home and in the classroom.  She also lists special resources and websites for military children and families.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Personal Effects

Personal Effects9780763655273_p0_v1_s260x420Personal Effects

E. M. Kokie

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  Sept. 12, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 14-17

Themes:  War, Deployments, Dealing with Loss, Grief, Redemption

Synopsis:  Matt Foster is drowning in grief after his older brother, T.J., is killed in Iraq.   Matt has a rocky relationship with his father who is stoic and doesn’t know how to deal with his own feelings about T.J.’s death, let alone help Matt with his loss.  Matt has  a minefield of problems like failing classes,  getting into serious fights with kids, and expulsion from school.  When T.J.’s personal items are delivered by the military, his father stashes them away, daring Matt to go near them.   Shauna, his best friend, is the only person Matt confides in.  He fears his bully father, but knows that the only way he can understand what has happened to T.J. is by opening the sealed trunks without getting caught.  Matt finds stacks of letters T.J. has written to Celia Carson and photos.  At the very bottom is a letter sealed in an envelope to “Celia” that T.J. never got to send.  After reading each letter over and over, Matt decides he must travel from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to deliver the letter and photos to Celia.   Together with Shauna, they plot his trip, calculate the cost, find where Celia lives and her place of employment, and find a cheap place for Matt to stay.  Shauna loans Matt her car.  In searching for answers about his brother in Wisconsin, Matt discovers he doesn’t know T.J. at all.

Why I like this book:  E. M. Kokie has written a courageous and beautiful debut novel that is complicated and compelling.  She delves deeply into the anger, pain, and grief of a 17-year-old trying to make sense of his brother’s death.  Matt wants to know the truth so he can find closure.  It leads him on a journey where he uncovers shocking truths about his brother he never imagined.  What Matt learns challenges him to honor T.J.’s memory, stand up to his volatile father, and take charge of his own life.  In many ways it is also a coming of age book that includes his relationship with Shauna.  There is no tidy ending and this book is as real as it gets.  You won’t easily forget Matt.  It is definitely a book for kids in high school and young adults.   Visit E.M. Kokie at her website and learn more about this author who writes “about teens on the cusp of life-changing moments, exploring issues of identity and self-determination.”

SPOILER ALERT:  Thought it important to include a quote from the author E.M. Kokie: “I think it is important to note that many LGBTQ service members  who served under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy, including over 13,000 military personnel who were discharged.” Matt’s story about how his brother lived a secret life is not uncommon.  Yet, T.J.  was deployed three times, served honorably and was killed in an explosion.  Make sure you read the author’s note at the end of the book.

Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

LoveLizzie51oEU3AbzRL__SX285_Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom

Lisa Tucker McElroy, Author

Diane Paterson, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Military Families, Mothers and Daughters, Separation, War

Opening: “Dear Mommy,  I know that it’s only been three days since you went away, but I really, really miss you.  Can you come back soon?”

Summary:  Lizzie’s mother is a soldier who has been deployed overseas to serve her country, and Lizzie misses her a lot.   She and her mother write a lot of letters to help with their separation.  Lizzie keeps her up to date with every day happenings at home with her Daddy and brother.  She talks about school, winning a soccer game and attending the state finals.  Lizzie draws pictures of how she rearranges her room.  She also draws many detailed maps about changes in town, and trips she takes with her Dad and brother to visit grandparents.  Foremost in Lizzie’s mind are the questions “Are you staying safe, Mommy?” and “When will you be home?”

What I like about this book:  This book is a series of hand-written letters with child-like drawings.  The major focus is about how a child deals with a long separation from a parent, especially if the parent is on a dangerous assignment.   Lisa Tucker McElroy has written a compelling book that speaks for the many military children who silently serve at home and endure the long separations, anxiety, fear and concern for the safety of their deployed parent.  They want to know where their parents are, what they are doing, why they miss birthday parties, holidays and soccer tournaments.  Diane Paterson’s colorful and lively artwork is very appealing.

Resources:  The author has written “Tips from Lizzie and Her Mom on Handling Separation.”   A great activity is to encourage your child to create a memory box where they can save things they’ve done throughout the year.  The box can be a way of sharing their year with a returning parent.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.