Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor those men and women who have served or are serving in the United States Armed Forces.

According to this video from History.com (informed by recent Census statistics), there are over 21 million veterans living in the United States, including 5.5 million who have served during times of peace and over 16 million who have served in a war. Of these, over 1.3 million veterans’ service careers spanned multiple wars.

We may not always agree with these wars or the reasons for them, but soldiers are people–people with families, people with feelings, people with difficult jobs that require determination and patriotism and bravery beyond anything I can imagine.

So when we talk about Veterans Day in the library every year, I try not to focus on the war or the violence or the politics, but instead on the people.

In Pre-K and kindergarten, we read a book called Hero Dad by Melinda Hardin and Bryan Langdo:

image from Avid Bookshop (click to visit)

This book tells the story of a little boy whose dad is a deployed soldier; the book opens with the father’s departure and ends with his return home. While the dad is gone, the boy thinks about how his dad is like a superhero–for example, on a page showing soldiers parachuting from an airplane: “My dad can’t fly. Well, sometimes he can.”

I love this book because it connects soldiers’ jobs to something kids know all about–superheroes–and it’s told with so much love and admiration from the little boy’s perspective. (There’s also a lovely sequel, Hero Mom, that students were excited to check out as a follow-up!)

After reading with PreK, we played a sorting game on the SMART Board where students took turns classifying items belonging to superheroes and soldiers:

The kids loved this sorting game, and it was also a fun introduction to the idea of fiction vs. nonfiction.
The kids loved this sorting game, and it also reinforced the concept of fiction vs. nonfiction.

But with kindergarten, we extended the story with some collaborative writing. I told them about an organization called Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, which sends care packages to deployed US troops around the world. Every care package includes snacks, decks of cards, toiletries, fresh socks, and other items from home, along with an encouraging letter–and for our writing, we would be using the site’s online form to send our own letters to cheer up a soldier far from home.

Here’s what our kindergarten students had to say:

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Our 1st and 2nd grade classes also read stories related to soldiers’ deployment and long separations from their loved ones. In 1st grade, we read one of my new-to-me favorite books by Eve Bunting, My Red Balloon:

image from Avid Bookshop (click to visit)

In this tearjerker, a little boy and his mother go to the docks to meet the boy’s father, a sailor in the Navy who has been gone for a long time. They carry a red balloon shaped like a heart and printed with the words, “Welcome Home”–but the boy worries his father won’t recognize him. And what will happen if the balloon floats away before his daddy finds him? (Spoiler alert: the ending is happy, and I feel like this book has just the right level of age-appropriate drama capped by a satisfying resolution.)

In 2nd grade, we read Jane Yolen’s All Those Secrets of the World, which is based on the true story of Yolen’s father’s two-and-a-half year service during World War II when she was a little girl:

image from goodreads (click to visit)

The story is told from young Janie’s point of view, and it’s bittersweet; her mother doesn’t get up to make breakfast the day after her father’s deployment, her dad comes home wounded, and her little brother doesn’t recognize his own daddy (who left for the war when he was just a tiny baby). But despite the sad parts, the homecoming at the end of the book is just perfect.

(I’m so glad to still have this beautiful book in my library, especially because it’s no longer in print, but you can read more about it on Jane Yolen’s website.)

For 3rd grade, I used the video mentioned above to introduce students to the holiday’s history and significance:

screenshot from History.com (click to visit)

Then, we read Eve Bunting’s The Wall, which focuses on a boy who travels with his father to Washington, DC, to find the name of his grandfather on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:

image from Avid Bookshop (click to visit)

Students hang on every word of this story, and honestly, I tear up every time I read it. This book is sad and haunting, capturing the deep sense of mingled pride and loss felt by a soldier’s family after they’re gone.

3rd grade also explored The Wall-USA, a non-profit project dedicated to honoring those who died in Vietnam. I can’t say enough good things about this site, which presents heartbreaking information in fascinating ways: there are basic charts of casualty counts, but there are also short biographies of the 8 women who died in the war, lists of which soldiers on the wall have birth dates or death dates today, pictures, stories, a guestbook, and more.

To follow up in 2nd and 3rd grades this week, students have been writing encouraging letters to deployed soldiers, which I’ll mail to Forgotten Soldiers Outreach once we’re all done. Instead of collaborating on a class letter, students have been working individually, and it’s been amazing to see the students genuine kindness and curiosity when writing to someone they’ve never even met.

(Click any photo to view it larger.)

Perhaps you are a veteran, or you’re related to someone who is, or maybe you’ve even lost a loved one who served–or maybe all of these things are true for you–and if any or all of them are, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

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