Through My Daughter’s Eyes by Julia Dye

Julia Dye has written stories since her childhood in Milwaukee, and although she writes about everything, she has an affinity for tales with a military flavor. Her father was a bomber pilot during World War II, and she married a Marine. She received a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America.

Dye’s new book, Through My Daughter’s Eyes (Warriors Publishing, 191 pp., $14.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle), deals with the courage and sacrifice involved when a military family faces repeated deployments, including new towns and new schools that the children must adapt to.

Abbie is a middle school student and is the only child in an Army family. She’s described as “equal parts Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, because she needs to be.”  Her goal, and that of her best friend Megan, is to get through Dessau Middle School “by being just good enough to not get noticed but not so good we’d draw attention.”  This plan works for a while—and then it doesn’t.

The moment when the plan ceases working is the subject of Through My Daughter’s Eyes. Abbie’s father gets deployed again to a combat zone and the stress causes her mother to fall apart, leaving Abbie in charge of things she is not qualified to be in charge of.

When Abbie’s father returns, he has changed in many of the usual ways that wars cause men to change. In other words, not for the better. He is not in the mood to talk about what had happened to him. She has her grandpa to talk to, which helps some, but not enough.

Abbie has to give up on being the one who saves her family. Grandpa’s talk about the Vietnam War is interesting, especially the part about how Americans were angry at the returning soldiers and how they became an easy target.

The novel is well-written in the voice of a child, and held my interest throughout. It is a book for young adults, but has plenty of appeal for adults.

I highly recommend it for both adults and young adults.

—David Willson

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My Grandfather’s War by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

My Grandfather’s War (EK Books, 32 pp., $17.99), tells a moving story (for six-to-nine year olds) that centers on a conversation between an eight-year-old girl and her grandfather after the child learns that he had been wounded in the Vietnam War. This picture book with minimal text is beautifully written by Glyn Harper, a post-Vietnam War veteran who is one of New Zealand’s best-known military historians. Jenny Cooper provides gentle, moving illustrations.

“Why did you go to fight in Vietnam?” the little girl asks. The grandfather’s answers are pitch perfect:

“My father and both my grandfathers had fought in a war and I thought that the war in Vietnam was my turn to go,” he says. “I thought the war would be exciting and that nothing bad would happen to me. I didn’t think I would get hurt.”

Those words capture the feelings that tens of thousands of young Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders had when contemplating what do do about the draft during the Vietnam War.

Grandfather did get hurt in Vietnam. The war he goes on to say, was “horrible.” The Vietnamese people “did not like us. They wanted us to leave. We were not really fighting the war for them. And we all knew we couldn’t win this war.”

He goes on to say that when the troops came home “no one thanked us for going to the war. They just wanted us to go away. Then a lot of us started to get sick from all the chemicals that had been used. Not just us; but our families, too. Some people have been so sick they can’t walk any more. Some have even died.”

Grandpa hits the nail on the head. And so does this gentle book, which has a post-script containing a very short and very good factual summary of the Vietnam War, concentrating on its legacy among Vietnam War veterans in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

—Marc Leepson

Ali’s Bees By Bruce Olav Solheim

Bruce Solheim is a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, California.  He served six years in the U.S. Army as a jail guard and as a helicopter pilot. He founded the Veterans Program at Citrus College, and teaches Vietnam War-related history classes.

The three kids in Solheim’s children’s book, Ali’s Bees (CreateSpace, 142 pp., $9.89, paper; $2.99, Kindle)—Ali, Lupe and Jenks— learn how to cooperate on a science project. Ali wishes he could feel at home in Los Angeles with his beekeeper grandfather with whom he went to live after his parents were killed in a terrorist attack in Iraq.

Ali has PTSD related to that terrorist attack he survived, but his family did not, except for his grandfather. His grandfather has Ali work with bees as therapy for his PTSD. Ali works with Lupe, a classroom friend, and with Jenks, a bully. Jenks has problems of his own as his father is confined to a wheelchair because of wartime injuries. The horrors of war live on every page of this book.

Some of the five illustrations by Gabby Untermayerova of Jenks’ father in his wheelchair brought tears to my eyes. Full disclosure: Often these days I am in a wheelchair, too.

This book can entertain and benefit all ages of readers. It can also teach how to try to overcome the ill-effects of war, effects that are with us always and everywhere.

The book is positive and healing, but it is also realistic. It never becomes maudlin or descends into didacticism. It is beautifully written and on some pages borders on poetry.

Bruce Solheim

I loved the book and would use it in class if I were still teaching about the horrors of war.

Thanks to Bruce Solheim and Gabby Untermayerova for conspiring to produce this fine book dealing with the impact of war on the human heart.

—David Willson

 

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and moved to Alabama at the end of the American war.  She now lives in Kansas with her family.  Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 277 pp. $16.99, hardcover; $7.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is written in free verse.  This children’s book—a bestseller that won the National Book Award when it come out in 2011— tells the story of Ha and her family’s journey from Saigon to America.

Thanhha Lai decided to use poetry to tell her story rather than a novel or short stories. It starts in Saigon in 1975,  the Year of the Cat. The reader gets a poem dated February 11, Tet, in which everyone eats sugary cakes and wears new clothes. It is a time for starting over.

The next poem is dated February 12, and the reader realizes the book is written as a journal in poetry.  At the end of the book we are on January 31, Tet, once again. In between, we get a year of Thanhha Lai’s life, her journey, and that of her family.

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Thanhha Lai

 

Here’s a brief sample from “Life in Waiting,” one of the poems that offers a taste of the author’s voice and great talent.

A routine starts/as soon as we settle/into our tent.

Camp workers/teach us English/mornings and afternoons.

Evenings we have to ourselves.

We watch movies outdoors/with images projected/onto a  white sheet.

Brother Quang translates/into a microphone,/his voice sad and slow.

If it’s a young cowboy/like Clint Eastwood,/everyone cheers.

If it’s an old cowboy,/like John Wayne,/most of us boo/and go swimming.

The Disney cartoons/lure out the girls,/who always surround/Brother Vu,

begging him to break/yet another piece of wood.

I can still hear them begging/when I go sit with Brother Khoi,

who rarely speaks anymore/but I’m happy to be near him.         

This is a fine book, both sad and funny–and not just for children.  Read it.  The Vietnamese point of view is elusive and seldom appreciated.

—David Willson

The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

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Augusta Scattergood is a children’s book author and reviewer and a former librarian. Her 2012 book Glory Be was a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee. She tells us she has “devoted her life and career to getting books into the hands of young readers.”

The hero of Scattergood’s latest YA book, The Way to Stay in Destiny (Scholastic, 192 pp., $16.99, hardcover; $6.99, paper; $10.99, Kindle), is an orphan named Thelonious (Theo) Monk Thomas by his hippie parents. It’s May 1974, and Theo has fallen into the hands of his mother’s brother, Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam veteran who has been working in Alaska since his war ended as a mechanic. He learned this skill during his time in the Army.

Theo’s parents died when he was four years old. His grandparents had raised him until their health failed, and then turned him over to Uncle Raymond, whom Theo “had never laid his eyes on.”

Uncle Raymond moves Theo from Kentucky to Destiny, Florida. In Kentucky, Theo had been in the same class with the same twelve kids forever. Now Theo and Uncle Raymond live in a boarding house that doubles as a dance studio in which a large piano tempts Theo who shares the musical skills of the man he was named after. Until Uncle Raymond takes over Theo’s life, the boy had been destined to be a famous musician or perhaps a big leaguer. His uncle has other ideas, and lays them down as laws.

Uncle Raymond carries everything he owns either in a heavy tool chest or in his old Army duffle bag He has a bum knee and complains it about constantly. When he wants to get Theo’s attention, he punches him in the arm, hard. He speaks abrupt, non-standard English.As in, “Don’t you know nothing?  It ain’t no ocean.”  And he tends to holler.

Uncle Raymond used the bus ride from Kentucky to Florida to lay out his rules. He reiterates them in the rooming house. “Things are different now,” he says, pounding his fist into his palm over and over again.  “You got to follow my rules.”

The primary source of conflict is the piano. When Uncle Raymond finds Theo playing it, he slams the keyboard cover on the boy’s hands. “Nobody but a fool wastes time on music,” he says.

At this stage of the novel I wondered what could happen to Theo and Uncle Raymond that would be uplifting or redeeming. Nothing much good can be said about Uncle Raymond. He seems to me to be straight out of a Dickens novel.

Uncle Raymond got his new job in Florida thanks to the intervention of an old Army buddy. “The boss is coming in early to show me the ropes,” he says. “ Least there’s somebody left who appreciates what we both fought for.”

Uncle Raymond seems permanently marked by his Army service. He demands that Theo “makes up the bed tight with that military fold thing.” He also insists that Theo does the laundry and folds the underwear in squares. Do we ever find out why Uncle Theo behaves so hatefully toward 6th grader Theo?  Yes, we do; it relates to the culture wars of the sixties.

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Augusta Scattergood

Theo’s parents were antiwar protestors. Raymond claims they spat on him and called him a baby killer when he came home from Vietnam. Theo’s mother, he tells the boy, went off to a “fancy college, met your daddy, she didn’t care a thing about me. I was far off, fighting for my country. He was carrying signs, spitting on soldiers. Didn’t matter what our family always stood for.”

When Raymond goes off to sleep, Theo says, “Before long, my uncle’s yelling about jungles and guns and spit.”

In the final chapter, Theo says that his uncle “might be coming around.” He even laughs, saying “I’ll never get used to that sound.”

The changes in Uncle Raymond seem abrupt and unrealistic. He has been depicted as an extremely deranged Vietnam veteran. At least he isn’t a drunk or drug addict and he does have a job. But he shouldn’t be raising a child.

This book leaves the young adult reader with a narrow view of the Vietnam War, of hippies, and of Vietnam veterans. That is not a good thing.

—David Willson

 

 

Choosing Courage by Peter Collier

Peter Collier’s Choosing Courage: Inspiring Stories of What It Means To Be a Hero (Artisan, 240 pp., $18.95) is an image-heavy children’s book (aimed at fourth to eight graders) that presents stories of American military heroism from World War II to the wars in Afghanistan, along with a short chapter on civilian heroes in the 21st century.

Collier’s chapter on the Vietnam War contains profiles of three well-known Medal of Honor recipients (Sammy Davis, Alfred Rascon, and Bud Day), and two lesser known men who received the military’s highest honor for courage under fire: Thomas Norris and Michael Thornton. The chapter opens with a three-page summary of the war’s history that is accurate, if exceedingly brief. Collier then details the exploits of the MOH recipients and includes sidebars on combat medics, American POWs, and SEAL training.

The civilian section contains essays by Vietnam War MOH recipients Jack Jacobs and Allen Lynch, as well as an account of Vietnam War veteran Rick Rescorla’s heroic actions at the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001, attacks.

—Marc Leepson

Little Bird Dog and the Big Ship by Marjorie Haun

Little Bird Dog and the Big Ship (AuthorHouse, 44 pp., $21.99, paper) is the first volume in what author Marjorie Haun calls her  “The Heroes of the Vietnam War” series of children’s books. This short book, illustrated by Stephen Adams, looks at former South Vietnamese Air Force Major Bung-Ly and his escape from Vietnam with his wife and five young children during the chaotic last day of the war, April 30,1975.

Bung-Ly gathered up his family in the middle of the night as the North Vietnamese took over. The family left South Vietnam aboard the Major’s Cessna 0-1 Bird Dog. After dodging machine gun fire over Con Son Island, Bung-Ly flew the plane out to the South China Sea, where—after more than a few harrowing moments—he landed safely on the deck of the U.S.aircraft carrier Midway.

Haun tells this stirring story well. Her one-page summary of the Vietnam War, though, should not be taken as the last word on that subject. She writes:

“South Vietnam had been a peaceful nation and its people were very kind to America. But enemies from the North fought for years trying to overrun the beautiful, tropical country which was home to farmers, fisherman, and merchants.

“The American Military went to South Vietnam to help their government fight invaders from the North who wanted to take over everything and force the people to live in a way they did not want to live. After many years of war, the Americans were ordered by their government to leave. Sadly the enemies from North Vietnam took over the country. Thousands of good and peaceful people from South Vietnam were rescued, and the Aircraft Carrier Midway became their temporary home.”

—Marc Leepson