In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Combat and kids

Dear Annie,

I love Charlie Parker Played Be Bop.  I also love Hand Hand Fingers Thumb, but feel extremely guilty that I knew you were reading the abridged board book version, but I still haven't sent you the
unabridged one
. Unlike many of those Bright & Early abridged board books, I think the one you've got hasn't changed the words, which is what makes it so good.  I've always thought of the book as having some historical content: those monkeys are such beatniks, as is their beat.  Published in 1969, oddly enough, in the post-beat era.

I'm doing an about-face on topic here, because I had an interesting question today at the store. A ten year-old boy and his mom were looking for books for him about the Iraq war.  He had seen and wanted an adult book,
The Good Soldiers
, by David Finkel. I carry it because the American Library Association listed it on their Ten Best Adult Books for Teenagers list, and because it's a good, (although searing) book.  I completely do not see it as a book for a ten year-old, no matter how precocious.  He really wanted something about the Iraq war -- was basically tired of the many books that exist for his age group about World War II and earlier.  He wanted to read about something that takes place during his lifetime.  His mother worried that he was caught up in the romance of war and combat, although she was willing to pursue the question.  I find it hard to imagine anything depicting romance of war in a combat zone in which roadside bombs and suicide bombs are two of the main methods of killing.

I found two possibilities, both rated as Young Adult, and neither of which I've read.  I carry
Sunrise Over Fallujah
by Walter Dean Myers, a writer whom I usually like a lot.  The novel focuses on the men and women in one company, during 2003.  The reviews give the impression that Myers communicates the terror and frustration of the war, but aims it at a school-age audience.

The other book I found (good old Google) and have ordered to look at is called
Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI
by Ryan Smithson. It's one young man's memoir of fighting in Iraq. The book was published in 2009, but appears to be based on events a few years earlier.  I have the impression it doesn't have the literary strength of the other two books.

There are also books about the non-combatants: children whose parents go off to war, child refugees displaced by war.  They held no interest for my young customer.

I've ended up full of questions I don't know the answers to.  What to do for this very likable smart ten year-old boy?  Does one help one's child pursue interests wherever they lead?  My immediate reaction is yes, and the parent goes along for the ride.  This mother was definitely planning to read whatever her son ended up getting.  At what age does one start exploring the horrifying-but-true? 

I know you teach The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, to your high school students.  Freshmen?  Seniors? Is there a difference? What are your reactions to this ten year-old?

This all feels a long way from last week's festival of love.  But one of the things I really like about my job  is the constant surprise of where books can lead kids -- and adults.



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