Our special exhibition The Vietnam War: 1945–1975 is an expansive, chronological investigation of factors leading up to and after the Vietnam War. The exhibition highlights themes of civic duty, citizenship, and what it means to be patriotic through text, visual aids, and historical objects.
The Vietnam War era remains a complicated time in American history and is therefore a difficult topic to discuss with children. Here at the New-York Historical Society, we are devoted to inspiring families to talk and learn about historical events in our galleries and at home. Picture books are a great way to introduce and open up a dialogue about heavy topics with children. A storybook can contextualize and bring history to life. We’ve got four recommendations that your family can use as tools to spark such discussions.
Plus, join us this winter for our weekly family programs Little New-Yorkers and Sunday Story Time, which will feature some of these books and a related art project on January 16, 19, 21, 30, and February 2, 6, 16. Both programs are designed for 3–6 year old learners and their caregivers and are free with Museum admission.
Written by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Ronald Himler
Recommended for ages 4–7
The Wall tells the story of a father and son visiting Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, in search the name of their lost relative. The memorial is engraved with the names of servicemembers who were classified as Killed in Action and Missing in Action. Along the way the son observes how people mourn and pay respect at the site. He and his father make a pencil rubbing of his grandfather’s name and leave a copy of his school picture.
This book is a useful tool for introducing a conversation with children about how to pay respect to victims of war, the importance of public art and cultural sites, and family legacy. It reminds us that recording history through memorial sites keeps the memory of lost ones alive.
America’s White Table
Written by Margot Theis Raven, Illustrated by Mike Benny
Recommended for ages 6–9
America’s White Table explains the practice of setting a “white table” to honor veterans held prisoner of war or missing in action. It is told by a ten-year-old girl named Katie as she and her sisters set the white table and learn what each item of the place setting symbolizes. Throughout the poetic story, Katie shares her overwhelming feelings of sadness and gratitude toward her Uncle John who served in the Vietnam War.
This book is a great starting place for a discussion about symbols we use to honor veterans, families who have veterans of military service, and how hard it can be to express feelings about war and military service.
Patrol, An American Soldier in Vietnam
Written by Walter Dean Myers, collages by Ann Grifalconi
Recommended for ages 10–12
Patrol is told by a young American solider scared for his life as he comes face to face with the opposition. His story is told through poetic verse and collage illustrations.
This book provides insight into the reality of fighting a war and the fact that there are two sides to every story. You can use this book as a way to discuss the horrors of combat with older children.
A Different Pond
Written by Bao Phi, Illustrated by Thi Bui
Recommended for ages 6–8
A Different Pond is the story of a father and son fishing in the early morning for their family dinner. Through narration and comic-style illustrations, the father tells his son about fishing when he was a boy in Vietnam, before the war and before immigrating to the United States. This brings back sad memories of the father’s lost brother during the Vietnam War.
This book can be used to talk with children about racism, immigration, family history, and grieving loss. It reminds readers that the effects of war extend decades beyond the actual events and live forever in our memories.
We hope that these book recommendations are useful in your home. To learn more, please join us for a program this winter!
Written by Tirzah Jane Baker