Memorial Day originated during the Civil War as Decoration Day in 1868; the Grand Army of the Republic wanted it to become a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became the familiar date and name that we all observe today. Despite the changes over the years, the purpose has stayed the same: to honor our military members who gave their lives for our country. Now, that may be a challenging concept for some kids, and some parents, but here are a few fantastic books to help bring home the meaning in a relatable way. During this holiday weekend, maybe while waiting for a parade to start, or enjoying the sun and BBQs with family, bring along some of these worthy reads to share with the kids.
The Civil War: An Interactive History Adventure, by Matt Doeden
Since the idea of Memorial Day began during the Civil War, it makes sense to pick up some books set during the same time period. A unique choose-your-own-adventure format puts middle grade readers right in the middle of the battles, from Gettysburg to Chancellorsville; few things bring home the reality of a situation like being asked to make tough choices yourself, plus there is a lot of room for rereading and new discoveries in Doeden’s book. Another great Civil War choice for middle grade readers is The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale, where readers follow 11 year old bugle player Gabe into the The Battle at Gettysburg as he tries to protect his older brother and make sense of the fighting. (Ages 8–12)
Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front, by Suzanne Collins and James Proimos
Year of the Jungle, a based on true-events story from the writer of The Hunger Games, follows young Suzy as her dad leaves for the Vietnam War. Collins writes in a way that is sincere and thoughtful, but that won’t be too much for little readers. The wonderful illustrations give the book some lightness and whimsy so that anyone can enjoy and relate to the story. Part of growing up is learning empathy and thankfulness, and stepping into the shoes of another, especially on a day like Memorial Day, can help families embrace those important ideas. Families can revisit this book, and the next one on our list, on Veteran’s Day as well. (Ages 4–8)
Looking at the timeline of American history, and America’s involvement in combat, can be hard for kids to grasp. This visually interesting book puts nearly everything about American history into easy to understand and unique infographics. Sometimes a number, or a easy to read chart, can open up ideas to kids that they might not have understood before. Since the Revolution, America has fought in many wars, and many brave men and women have given their lives for our country. Books like this have the power to show kids what they were fighting for. (Ages 8–10)
The Wall, by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
In another beautifully drawn picture book, this gentle story follows a young boy and his father as they search for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Using soft illustrations and a calm narrative voice, Bunting and Himler have created a loving book about a difficult topic. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is the simple way, as this book shows. During Memorial Day, or before any trip to visit The Wall in Washington DC, this book should be on everyone’s must read list. (Ages 4–7)
How does your family celebrate Memorial Day?