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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembering Those Who Served

According to the Veterans Day Teacher Resource Guide offered to schools by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs,

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11th as Veterans Day and called upon Americans everywhere to rededicate themselves to the cause of peace. He issued a Presidential Order directing the head of the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs, to form a Veterans Day National Committee to organize and oversee the national observance of Veterans Day.
This Wednesday, November 11th, we as teachers must remind our students of the selfless service and sacrifice demonstrated by the men and women of America's Armed Forces. For this honored occasion, I recommend three special picture books.

Award winning Heroes, written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee, is one of my favorites for initiating discussions around this observance.

Japanese American schoolboy Donnie is tired of playing the bad guy every time he and his friends get together. He'd rather play football, but they're only interested in playing war. And according to the other boys, Donnie should play the enemy because he does, after all, look like "them." Donnie futilely protests that his father and uncle served their country, the United States, but his friends just laugh. When Donnie pleads with his father and uncle for proof, they tell him that "real heroes don't brag." The story's ending is unexpected and noble, and each year when I share this book aloud, the reaction is incredible.

New York Times called Heroes "dignified and effective." Kirkus Reviews stated, "Heroes is also a tribute to the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, an all-Japanese-American regiment, and serves as a reminder of their important contribution."

I strongly recommend that Heroes find a place in every classroom library. Publisher Lee and Low have provided a helpful teacher's guide at their site containing many cross-curricular ideas for use with this book.

A newer book for me, but one that is just as powerful, is America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Mike Benny.

From the Sleeping Bear Press site:

The White Table is set in many mess halls as a symbol for and remembrance to service members fallen, missing, or held captive in the line of duty. Solitary and solemn, it is the table where no one will ever sit.

As a special gift to her Uncle John, Katie and her sisters are asked to help set the white table for dinner. As their mother explains the significance of each item placed on the table Katie comes to understand and appreciate the depth of sacrifice that her uncle, and each member of the Armed Forces and their families, may be called to give.
The ceremony of the America's White Table is beautifully described in this book; not just what each object is, but what it is meant to represent. The book's narrator then finds even more meaning in this tradition upon learning that her own uncle, "who gave us big bear hugs and spun us with airplane twirls" was a prisoner of war in Vietnam before the nieces were ever born.

Another Sleeping Bear title that should be mentioned is H Is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet. Written by the son of a soldier, this book explores the many branches of the Armed Forces, speaking of both the privileges and sacrifices of military families everywhere. Many aspects of military life are discussed, in both poem and sidebar explanatory text. Like all Sleeping Bear alphabet books, every page has a beautiful full-page illustration.

For example, the poem on the letter "A" page reads:

"Give me an A for Army, and an A for Air Force, too.
An A for all the Armed Services behind the red, white, and blue.
They stand at attention, tall and proud, all impeccably dressed.
An A for the American Armed Forces, an A for the world's very best."
The sidebar begins:

"The Armed Services of the United States protect our nation, its people, and its ideals. There are five branches that make up the United States military.

The U.S. Army is the main ground force for the United States. It's the largest and oldest branch of the service, founded in 1775...."
In my class, we have written letters to those presently serving in the armed forces. That is, I know, a common activity in many schools. I would also suggest perhaps using a sites such as Instant Poetry Forms to write a poem following the sharing of Veterans Day picture Books. Either the Instant Spine Poem or the Cinquain would provide a simple yet effective format for the poem.

I would also encourage every teacher to download the incredible Veterans Day Teaching Kit mentioned at the beginning of this post. It contains fabulous information and activities, including the Difference Between Veterans Day and Memorial Day:

Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Both holidays were established to recognize and honor the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. But Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday in May, was originally set aside as a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.

While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, which is observed on November 11, Veterans Day is intended to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living Veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty.
The site also contains a link to an archive of Veterans Day posters which can be printed out or used in other applications. These well designed, powerful images should be posted prominently in every school.

Book Giveaway: Although you won't have it in time for this year's observance, Sleeping Bear Press has generously offered a copy of America's White Table to three readers of this blog. Just email me with "White Table Drawing" in the subject line, and we'll pick some winners in the next two weeks.