I’m somewhat torn over the fact that Memorial Day is a holiday. On one hand, I think it’s valuable for us to recognize the service and sacrifices of those who’ve served our country so selflessly. On the other hand, as a middle school librarian, I wonder what it means to my students beyond a day off from school. The ones who have family members who have served or are currently serving in the military certainly understand, but what about the others? And as for me, I grew up in an era of growing doubt and skepticism of those serving in our military. Gone were the days when service people were viewed through the lens of unambiguous patriotism. A sense of unease over military tactics, fueled by growing real-time media coverage, had brought a sense of the moral complexities of war that concerned many parents and teachers I had, who had grown up in a more ‘Captain America’ era of viewing the military as the ultimate good. But seeing people and their actions in their complexity it ultimately a good, if confusing, reality.
There are a number of young adult books which deal so well with these topics. I’m thinking of A.S. King’s Everybody Sees the Ants, Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, and Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah. But for middle grades, there are not as many obvious choices. Issues such as PTSD need to be dealt with on a more sensitive level, and can be difficult to fully describe to a middle grade audience. I recommend the following 5 books / series for those students in the middle grades who are interested in stories dealing with the military side of war:
Four best friends. Four ways to serve their country.
Morris, Rudi, Ivan, and Beck are best friends for life. So when one of the teens is drafted into the Vietnam War, the others sign up, too. Although they each serve in a different branch, they are fighting the war together — and they pledge to do all they can to come home together.
There are few things Roman loves as much as baseball, but his country is at the top of the list. So when it looks like the United States will be swept up into World War II, he turns his back on baseball and joins the US Army.
Roman doesn’t mind. As it turns out, he is far more talented with a tank than he ever was with a baseball. And he is eager to drive his tank right into the field of battle, where the Army is up against the fearsome Nazis of the Afrika Korps.
The North African terrain is like nothing Roman has ever known, and desert warfare proves brutal. As Roman drives his team deeper into disputed territory, one thing becomes very clear: Life in wartime is a whole new ball game.
Tradition. Loyalty. Strength. It’s in their blood. A set of war stories connected by a family bloodline–each book follows a different family member into battle. This series reinvents military fiction through the exciting combination of graphic-novel art and socially interactive story lines. Each hero faces a realistic character-building moment as they experience life on the battlefield in these wars: World War II,in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Each book includes maps, notes on weapon technology and background on the actual historical battle.
And, finally, P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams Garcia, which deals realistically and sensitively with the after effects of serving in Vietnam as seen through the three girls’ interactions with their uncle, Darnell.