My father-in-law, Charles Hill, was nineteen years old when he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the South Pacific, a long way from the south side of Chicago where he graduated from high school. During his tour of duty he sent home letters, cartoons, and postcard sketches of his daily life overseas—reminiscences which he later collected as a gift to his children and grandchildren before his death in 2006. As grateful as we are to have those letters and sketches now, I can only imagine what they must have meant to his parents and siblings at the time.
Below, in honor of Memorial Day, is a selection of books about life on the home front and the impact of war on the families of those who serve.
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Ann Fay Honeycutt accepts the role of “man of the house” when her father leaves to fight Hitler because she wants to do her part for the war. She’s doing well with the extra responsibilities when a frightening polio epidemic strikes, crippling many local children. In the face of tragedy, Ann Fay experiences the healing qualities of friendship and explores the depths of her own faithfulness to those she loves—even to one she never expected to love at all.
When Brother’s dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch, but also reveal his true calling.
Insight by Diana Greenwood (World War II)
In a house crowded with her mother, cantankerous grandmother, and little sister, Jessie, Elvira Witsil feels forgotten and alone. Elvira’s family holds their secrets closely. Secrets about the father Jessie never knew, lost at sea during World War II, and the one secret Elvira can’t quite understand: that Jessie sees things no one else can see, a secret that will send Elvira and her family on a cross-country journey toward redemption and healing–if only she can bring herself to believe.
Missing in Action by Dean Hughes (World War II)
While his father is missing in action in the Pacific during World War II, twelve-year-old Jay moves with his mother to small-town Utah, where he sees prejudice from both sides, as a part-Navajo himself and through an unlikely friendship with Japanese American Ken from the nearby internment camp.
No one in her sixth-grade class knows quite what to make of Ms. Loupe, with her short hair, her taped square “stage” on the floor, and her interest in improvisational theatre. After all, their school is on an Air Force base–a place that values discipline more than improv. Her students soon come to love her fresh approach, though; and when her brother goes missing in Afghanistan, they band together to support their teacher. What starts as a class fundraiser expands into a nationwide effort for injured troops and a vision of community and hope.
When twelve-year-old Jamie Dexter’s brother joins the Army and is sent to Vietnam, Jamie is plum thrilled. She can’t wait to get letters from the front lines describing the excitement of real-life combat: the sound of helicopters, the smell of gunpowder, the exhilaration of being right in the thick of it. After all, they’ve both dreamed of following in the footsteps of their father, the Colonel. But TJ’s first letter isn’t a letter at all. It’s a roll of undeveloped film, the first of many. What Jamie sees when she develops TJ’s photographs reveals a whole new side of the war and the shine begins to fade on Army life—and the Colonel. How can someone she’s worshipped her entire life be just as helpless to save her brother as she is?
Meggie Dillon’s life is turned upside down when her father announces they’re moving to Willow Run, Michigan, where he’ll work nights in a factory building war planes to help fight the enemy in Europe. In Willow Run, Meggie lives in close quarters with other kids whose parents have come to work, wait, and hope for victory and the safe return of their loved ones, including Meggie’s big brother, Eddie.
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Laurie Schneider lives and writes in North Idaho. Her middle-grade work-in-progress, Pure Polansky, is set during the Vietnam War.