By Eve Bunting; illustrated by Ronald Himler
As parents, we sometimes have a tendency to want to shield our children from anything disquieting, complicated or downright sad. And that is a very human reaction to have; this protective instinct we have as to what filters through to our children’s psyche. We want to insulate them, at least in childhood, from what is frightening or confusing.
Today is Veteran’s Day, and we seek to honor the men and women that serve and who have served in our Armed Forces. Here is a moment and a picture book to touch on what may well still be an unhealed wound on the soul of our country – the Viet Nam War. And, it may help provide a window for young ones into what our Armed Forces are, what they do and what the cost of this profound personal service can be. Gratitude tinged with sadness could be one response of children to this book.
For young children today, war may not be something front and center in discussions at home. And why would it be? There have been so many conflicts that the United States has been involved in since Viet Nam. Yet, during the Viet Nam war, many more families, because of the draft, were affected. Today, because of an all volunteer army, the effect of war is narrowed to fewer families.
Two conflicts in Iraq, as well as those in Serbia, Afghanistan and now in Syria and Iraq again, have occurred since the 1960’s. Viet Nam seems a distant memory even for those like myself who lost friends there. In college at the time, we saw Viet Nam vets come home changed men that wanted a normal life and entered our classes on the GI bill. Yet, as I said, it is still a more dim memory for Baby Boomers, and dimmer still for Gen-Xers and Millennial’s that have taken the experience of the Viet Nam War solely from history books.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is a winding, black granite wall that curves its way about a mall with the names of 58,000 men etched in stone that died in the conflict, and it is a profoundly moving reminder of that war.
In the picture book called “The Wall” by Eve Bunting, a father and his young son journey to Washington to find the name of the young father’s father and the boy’s grandfather’s name inscribed on the wall.
Reviews of this wonderful book with its subdued watercolor tones rendered beautifully by Ronald Himler, deem it a “quiet, respectful exposition.” It is called a “sensitive and moving picture book” that allows children to come to terms with the cost of war in their own way, and maybe prompt questions to nearby adults that seek answers too.
How do you intermix a sense of “sadness and pride” in a name etched on a wall?
THIS picture book does that as the young boy slowly passes down the wall of names and encounters others looking too. We see an older couple quietly weeping and holding each other, a veteran in a wheel chair mixed in with classes of older school children accompanied by their teacher. All scan the array of mementos of crosses, teddy bears, and flags, along with notes that line the floor of the wall.
There is something so tender and right about the young boy’s gesture of putting his school picture beneath his grandfather’s name below the wall, and hurrying to retrieve it when the wind blows it away, anchoring it this time with a rock. The young father was the age of his young son when he lost his own father in 1967. As tens of thousands have done before him, the father takes a piece of paper and takes a rubbing of the name of GEORGE MUNOZ, imprinted clearly from the wall, onto a small slip of paper.
We seek permanence and safety for our children in a world that may not always deliver it, and can sometimes seem loosely held together and fragmented. For the children of families that have members serving here and overseas in the Armed Forces, this book may have greater resonance still in their lives because of they and their family’s experiences.
But Veterans Day and the picture book, “The Wall”, is a singular opportunity among many, to honor the men and women of our Armed Forces that try each day to safeguard our well being, many times at the cost of their own.
This Veteran’s Day, we have an opportunity to teach our children that our freedoms are anchored in all those that have served our country. And sometimes the price is very high.
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