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June 1, 2016

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Vietnam: Books 40 Years Later

Forty years ago, the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended. War is a terrible thing and as we begin to wind down a long war it’s important that we remember the sacrifices that soldiers make and the costs of war. Literature is a great way to do that, and there are some great nonfiction titles out there for teens and tweens. Profiles: The Vietnam War by Daniel Polansky is one such book that focuses on six important figures in the Vietnam War. Books like that are great; they can build a foundational understanding for readers of what the war or event was about.

Novels about war can go so much deeper and enhance the reader’s understanding of war. One of my favorite war books of all time that embodies this idea is Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. The vignettes in O’Brien’s classic book weave together perfectly to not only illustrate the hardships and sacrifices that the soldiers endure, but also to bring humanity back into a topic and time that is so violent and occasionally dehumanized.

The Things They Carried can be a little much for a sixth or seventh grader so I would not recommend that book for them—enter Chris Lynch’s Vietnam series. It’s The Things They Carried for middle school. It follows four friends who make a pact to all go into the Vietnam War after one of them is drafted. They each go into one of the four branches of the military (Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines) and each one of the four books follows one of the characters. Lynch handles the complexities and harshness of war brilliantly and makes the morbid aspects accessible for younger readers so they can grasp many of the things an older reader would get out of The Things They Carried. The short chapters also make the series a page-turner and something that reluctant readers won’t be intimidated by. I could go on and on about how much I love Lynch’s Vietnam series and why it is important, but it’s probably better if you just go out and pick it up, give it to your sixth or seventh grader, and have a discussion about the costs of war and the sacrifices that everyone makes in war.

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March 15, 2013