My Grandfather’s War by Glyn Harper

My Grandfather’s War

Glyn Harper, Author

Jenny Cooper, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Grandfathers, Vietnam War, Memories, PTSD

Opening: “This is my Grandfather. He came to live with us just after I was born. I call him ‘Grandpa’ but his real name is Robert.”

Synopsis:

Sarah loves spending time with her grandfather, but she knows that there are times when he is sad and keeps to himself. She senses his pain. Curious to find out the cause of her grandfather’s unhappiness, the child innocently asks him questions and unknowingly opens old wounds. Her grandfather is very open with Sarah and tells her about going to war in Vietnam. He tells her that his leg was hurt and that’s why he walks with a limp. But he also shares with her that some of his friends were hurt even more and some even died in Vietnam. He talks about the heat, the jungle and the chemicals that made many sick. He explains that the Vietnamese people didn’t want the soldiers there. When they came home from war no one thanked them for their service. Sarah discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there.

Why I like this story:

Glyn Harper, a Professor of War studies, has written My Grandfather’s War to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s longest battle, Khe Sanh.  It is a compelling story that sensitively tackles difficult topics about painful memories, PTSD, the legacy of war and the treatment of returning Vietnamese Veterans. It is a story brimming with heart. Harper’s goal is to get children “hooked on history.”

     Courtesy of the publisher.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are realistic and expressive. Yet her warm and soft palette of colors is soothing for children.  As Sarah’s grandfather talks about his time in Vietnam, Cooper shows Grandfather’s war memories of the jungle, battle, the reaction of the Vietnamese people to the soldiers presence, and the protests by Americans on opposite pages. The illustrations aren’t frightening and will encourage kids to ask questions about this “unpopular” war.

     Courtesy of the publisher.

There are no books for children about the Vietnam war, as Sarah discovers when she looks in her school library. This is the first book that I’ve seen that delicately explains the war in an age-appropriate manner for children. I am very excited to share this book because my brother, my cousin and many friends spent time in Vietnam, while I was in college dodging protests and the National Guard presence on campus. It was a confusing time for everyone. That’s why this book is an important addition to any school library.

Resources: There is a history of the Vietnam War at the end of the book. This is an opportunity to teach children about the complexities of war, and how it impacts and shapes people’s lives. You see it in the expressions of the grandfather and the people of Vietnam. There is also a Teachers Guide that can be downloaded from EK Books.

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

*Copy provided by the publisher.

Inside Out and Back Again

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Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes:  Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience

Synopsis from Book Jacket:  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.   But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family.  This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Why I like this book:  Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous.  It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable  story based on  Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.”  Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty.  “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.”  This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.

Resource:  You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.