Friday, May 18, 2012

Guy Friday-- Vietnam

The most popular wars for boys to want to read about have been World War II and Vietnam for as long as I have been a librarian. While there are a fair amount of WWII books, there has been a notable lack of books about Vietnam. Since many of my students have grandfathers who fought then, there has been an increase in requests for these books, but not an increase in books. Here are two very good ones.


Lynch, Chris. Sharpshooter. (Vietnam, Book Two)
1 April 2012, Scholastic
In I Pledge Allegiance, we meet four friends growing up at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Rudi is the first to get a draft notice, and is visibly upset. Morris is resigned to going, Beck wants to keep his hair long until the very last minute, but Ivan is gung-ho. His father fought with Patton in WWII, and as long as the fight is a good fight (and any fight for your country falls into that category), it's okay. Sent on a ship to Vietnam, Ivan is trained to be a sniper, and tries to do the best that he can, while most of the other men are just counting the days until they return home. The more experience Ivan has with war, the less enchanted with it he becomes. After he kills his first man, for example, he gets a tattoo, but on the inside of his bicep instead of somewhere showier. Eventually, the horror of the war catches up even with Ivan, and he, too, starts to count down the days.
Strengths: The details in this short book are relevant and fantastic. From pop tabs that come off cans (am I the only one who really misses those), to details of the fighting, Lynch does an excellent job of making one feel there. In the first book, I was concerned at how was was almost glorified; it is not in this book. This series is a must have for middle school libraries.

Kurlansky, Mark.
Battle Fatigue.
25 October 2011, Walker Books for Young Readers
Joel Bloom is living in a small Massachusetts community in the wake of World War II. The fathers of all of his friends fought in the war; his father was an officer, and it is Joel's expectation throughout his childhood that he will one day grow up and fight for his country. He and his friends play "war" using German and Japan relicts that their fathers brought back. As they get older, Joel and his friends turn more to baseball, and are caught up in current events. One friend's father dies in Korea, which at the time was referred to as a "police action". President Kennedy is elected, and then he is killed. Joel graduates and goes off to college in order to get a draft deferment. He becomes politically active when he meets a girl who is socially conscious, but eventually has to register for the draft. He feels that he cannot go to Vietnam and kill people, so applies for conscientious objector status. When this is denied, he decides to go to Canada.
Strengths: It is hard to do this book justice. While the chapters follow Joel's growing up years, they are so well written that his reactions to the events of his time are palpable. I have not read anything for young adults that so clearly explains and defines this influential generation of Americans. Having missed the Baby Boom by six months, I found this fascinating. I have a friend who lived in Canada for many years, not returning until well after Carter pardoned the draft dodgers in 1977. I've not read anything else by this author, but his writing was very powerful. I also gave this to one of our teachers who was born the year before Joel, and he was riveted by it.
Weaknesses: One of Joel's neighbors goes to Vietnam and returns shell shocked and angry. He drops a lot of f-bombs. Given the historical context, and the very focused use of this as a component of the character after his tour in Vietnam, I will have to overlook this as justified.

Here in the library: Thought I could have everything shelf read by 8 a.m. yesterday. So funny! Finished by 3:00 p.m. partly due to the fact I wasn't closed yet and students still had reports, etc. I also ended up weeding about 350 of the nastiest paperbacks and older titles-- I haven't bought a paperback in the ten years I've been here. You can imagine the odiferous pile of crumbling tomes.

Reference Question of the Day: "Can you teach us how to hustle?" No joke. And yes. Yes, I can.

Today I am CLOSED, but may have to watch about 30 students who haven't turned in books and therefore won't go to Field Day. Since I also need to do inventory, I can torture them with the incessant beeping of the hand held scanner! Always fun. The overheads begin their ritual migration to the library for purposes of worshipping the Great Overhead God-- pictures forthcoming.

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