Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

A touching tribute to the fallen and those who stand guard: Twenty-One Steps

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Matt Tavares, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201482

Ages 7-10

Told in the quiet, poetic voice of the Unknown Soldier, Twenty-One Steps is the story of the Unknown Soldier and of the soldiers who guard the Tomb through sun and rain. It is the most difficult post to earn, and the highest privilege for those who do. Every bit of each soldier’s appearance, every step they take, is in service to the Unknown Soldier. Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares create a moving tribute to the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price, and those who guard them in this flawless work. An afterword about Arlington National Cemetery concludes the book.┬áThe first soldier, a World War I veteran, was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 100 years ago this coming November; make sure to have this in your collections.

Twenty-One Steps has starred reviews from The Horn Book and Kirkus.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Book Review: I’ll Pass for Your Comrade, by Anita Silvey (Clarion, 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade is a line taken from a Civil War Ballad, “The Cruel War”; a woman is saying goodbye to her love, leaving to fight, and begs to join him in combat. She offers to “pass for his comrade” – something that, according to the National Archives, at least 250 women did during the Civil War. Many women fought to be with their husbands and fiances. Some women fought for revenge. Some women fought for the thrill of battle. Unfortunately, because they had to keep their stories silent, most of these stories have been lost. I’ll Pass for Your Comrade tells the stories of some of the women who donned men’s uniforms, cut their hair, and went to war.

We hear the words of the women who fought, like Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who wrote about her participation in the Battle of Bull Run as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. We see photographs of women like Frances Clayton, featured in the book both dressed in her uniform and her dress. We learn about their lives after the War, and how some of them took their secrets to the grave, their families only discovering their truth after death.

The book has black and white photographs and primary documents reprinted throughout, offering students the chance to see history as they read about these women. The author also provides a bibliography for further reading. This would be a strong selection to use during Women’s History Month or during a Civil War unit.