There is so much interest right now in exploring the history of one of America’s most controversial wars, the Vietnam War—including right here at the Museum, where we’ve got a new exhibition, The Vietnam War: 1945-1975. How can young people best start to grasp the origins, major events, and ambiguous results of this complicated conflict?
As always, books, both non-fiction and historical fiction, can be a great entry point. This fall our Reading into History Family Book Club is reading two books related to the war, one from each genre, but we’ve got a few more ideas for great reads on this complicated topic. Check out our recommendations below!
1. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Ten-year-old Ha is forced to flee Saigon with her mother and three older brothers after her home city falls into a terrible war that has already claimed her father. After an arduous journey, Ha and her family finally land safely in Alabama. But the struggle doesn’t end there: Ha faces bullying as she tries to fit into her new American community, finding the most solace getting to know a teacher who lost a son in the same war that claimed Ha’s father. Eventually, readers will cheer for Ha as she learns the ropes of a new culture.
We’re not the only ones who love this gorgeous novel in verse: It won a Newbery Honor and the National Book Award in 2013. Reading into History Family Book Club is featuring this book at our November 12 meeting. Come discuss this book with us and meet author Thanhha Lai in person! We’ll even take folks into our exhibition after discussion and Q&A, and Lai will sign your book.
2. Vietnam: A History of the War by Russell Freedman
In this latest work, non-fiction author Freedman accomplishes the difficult task of contextualizing for middle graders one of America’s most confusing and fraught wars. Freedman takes readers through the beginning of the conflict in the region through the major turning points in the war, and ends with an epilogue about Vietnam today. This overview is readable, fascinating, and full of primary source images that will help middle readers make sense of this era.
Our Reading into History Family Book Club digs deep into this book at our meeting on Sunday, January 14, 2018, over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend. We’ll be joined by two veterans of the Vietnam War, Herbert Sweat and Barbara Chiminello. Join us in January to meet our guests, ask questions about their experiences in the war, and visit our exhibition with them.
3. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
This National Book Award Finalist won points for exploring how the Vietnam War affected families of veterans on the U.S. home front. Okay For Now continues the story of Doug, a minor character in Schmidt’s earlier novel The Wednesday Wars. Doug’s life is in turmoil at home with an abusive father and a brother whose experiences in the Vietnam War have scarred him. Through an unlikely friendship, Doug pushes through hardship and learns to cope with loss.
4. Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Jamie comes from a military family; her father’s nickname is the Colonel and her brother TJ heads off to fight in Vietnam early in the novel. Jamie looks forward to receiving exciting letters from the war front. But instead her brother sends her rolls of film, and they tell a much more complex story than what Jamie had imagined war to be. Descriptions of TJ’s photographs bring Jamie, and readers, into his experiences and show how the reality of the Vietnam War created turmoil at home, even in a family that believes “The army way is the right way.”
5. Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
Sixth-grader Frannie is intrigued by a line of poetry by Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers.” In the schoolyear of 1971, amidst a backdrop of protest against the Vietnam War, Frannie learns about hope. She grapples with distance between her and her best friend and learns about the only white-skinned boy in her all-black class, whom others have nicknamed Jesus Boy and who claims he isn’t actually white. Woodson’s 2010 Newbery Honor novel also explores themes of religion and integration.