Reading about Veterans
Reading about Veterans
Thinking about Veterans Day, which is approaching, my mind turned to various middle grade books that focus on the military, and the impact that war has on veterans and their families.
One such book is Brenda Woods’ novel The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA, which takes place in a Southern town in the post-World War II era. One character, Gabriel Haberlin, is a white boy whose father runs an auto shop. He becomes friendly with Meriwether Hunter, a Black veteran who served in the Army’s 761st Tank Battalion during the war.
I interviewed Woods back in 2019. She said, “The first book I ever wrote in the early 1990s was an adult World War II novel and one of the main characters was a member of the 761st Tank Battalion. That book was never published but I always wanted to include this little-known fact in a book and so…The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA was written and Meriwether Hunter came to life.”
When I asked her what she hoped readers would take away from the story, she said, “I hope they take away the fact that genuine friendship crosses the man-made lines of color and/or age. I also hope they gain an understanding that even as young people it’s OK to begin to think about issues of genuine freedom and justice.”
On the nonfiction side, I interviewed Deborah Hopkinson in 2018 about her book D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History. She said, “Although I’ve written two previous books about World War II, students kept asking for more! I’ve found young readers fascinated by World War II. And, in fact, so was I at that age. Also, it seemed to me that I wanted to understand the invasion of Normandy better. It was, after all, not only one of the defining events of the war, but of the 20th century.”
Asked what surprised her in the course of her research for the book, she said, “I don’t think I fully appreciated that for many of the units fighting on D-Day were experiencing their first taste of combat. It’s a testament to the planning and training—and the courage of those young men— that things worked as well as they did. Another surprise for me was the role that weather played in the planning, and just how fraught those last hours before launch were.”
Of course, there are so many more middle grade books to recommend on these topics—and not just from World War II. And I hope readers take a look—not just around Veterans Day, but throughout the year.