On a recent trip to my local warehouse grocery store, I had an experience that got me thinking about veterans and what they have sacrificed for our country. I completed my shopping and was waiting in line to show my receipt on the way out the door when an elderly man, who was sitting alone at a table in the snack bar area of the store, could be heard shouting out a woman’s name as if he were in some distress. I asked the employee as I handed her my receipt if the man was okay, or if he needed assistance, and she informed me that the staff had already checked on him and apparently his wife was shopping while he waited for her in the snack bar.
As the employee was telling me this, the man shouted out his wife’s name again, and he was rocking back and forth with what seemed like anxiousness, so I decided to check on him myself. I approached the man and asked him if he was all right, or if he needed the store’s manager to find his wife, and he looked at me with some confusion in his eyes but replied that no, his wife was shopping and would be done soon. It was clear from his body language, tone of voice, and general aura of confusion that he was experiencing some form of dementia. As I asked him again if he was sure he didn’t need anything, I noticed his ball cap, which indicated that he was a WWII Veteran.
As I reached out my hand for a handshake I told him that I could see he is a veteran, and I thanked him for his service. His eyes cleared a bit, his face lit up in surprise and he smiled at me as he thanked me warmly for noticing, just before he resumed shouting for his shopping wife. As I left the store that day, I thought about our older veterans and how many of them won’t be around much longer. I sincerely hope that someone, somewhere, knows this man’s story. Knowing the stories of our older veterans is so important, especially for today’s children, who have not lived to see the kinds of war our country has experienced in the past.
My own children do not have any older family members who have served in the military, at least no one that they live near and spend time with on a regular basis. How can I show them the importance of appreciating the older veterans in our town, and in our country? Their schools hold very nice assemblies for Veteran’s Day, but I needed more. And what do I turn to when I need to teach children about life experiences neither they, nor I, have had? Books! My librarian and teacher friends were glad to help with recommendations, and my own search at the public library turned up some great selections, so I’ve made a list below that includes picture books and middle grade books suitable for kids from early elementary to upper middle school age. It’s difficult to narrow down the choices to books that only address the experiences of older veterans, since war affects so many, including civilians, so I’ve included some titles that showcase diverse experiences. This list is by no means all inclusive – it is only meant as a starting point for anyone looking for books to help start the conversation with kids about veterans and war.
Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay and Renne Benoit (illustrator)
Tundra Books, September 2009
Granddad Bud: A Veterans Day Story by Sharon Ferry
Authorhouse, August 2010
The Wall by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler (illustrator)
Clarion Books, April 1990
In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield and Janet Wilson (illustrator)
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, October 1996
Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood by Valerie Pfundstein and Aaron Anderson (illustrator)
Pfun-omenal Stories LLC Second Edition, December 2013
The Tuskegee Airmen Story by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly (illustrator)
Pelican Publishing, September 2002
Middle Grade Books
Mare’s War by Tania S. Davis
Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2009
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
David Fickling Books; First American Edition, September 2006
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, January 2016
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press, January 2014
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson
Carolrhoda Books, October 2016
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books, January 2015
This Veteran’s Day, let’s all find a veteran, young or old, and thank them for their sacrifice. If you know an older veteran, ask them to tell their story. If you know a civilian who has been affected by war, ask them about their experiences. They may not want to talk about it, and that’s okay, but they may also appreciate the opportunity to share. Passing this information, these stories, on to future generations is how we learn from history, and that’s important for people of all ages to remember.