The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
This book is about the personal impact that the Vietnam War had on a dad and a son. The dad lost his father, and the son lost his grandfather. In the book, the dad and son go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. While the dad tries to locate his father’s name, the little boy notices all the people and things around him, all a symbol of the war. Finally, the dad finds the name he is looking for and uses a pencil to rub it onto a piece of paper. Again, the dad silently reflects while the boy notices things around him. The book presents a powerful image of the grief that has followed losing a loved one in the Vietnam War, but also the pride and honor that comes with his name being on the memorial. I think this book could definitely be used in a middle school history classroom to make the Vietnam War more personal and more relatable. Middle school students reading this book would feel bad for the little boy who now does not have a grandfather, and maybe start to better understand people’s reactions against the Vietnam War. Also, the pictures show the vastness of the memorial and how many names are on the wall, something that may surprise students who did not realize how many lost their lives fighting in the Vietnam War.
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
This book is about a Native American girl who loves spending time with horses and has a special connection to them. One night, she falls asleep among the horses but a huge storm frightens the horses and causes them to run away. She jumps onto the back of one and eventually finds herself lost in the wilderness. In the morning, a stallion appears and welcomes them to live among the other wild horses. A year later, hunters capture the girl, but she is sad to return home because being with the horses it what truly makes her happy. Her parents agree to let her go back, and the people have a joyful celebration. Eventually, the girl turns into a beautiful mare, giving the Native Americans relatives among the Horse People.
This book won a Caldecott Medal, which recognizes the “most distinguished picture books.” The illustrations are wonderful, and I think most middle school students would really enjoy them. Like The Wall, this book could also be used in a history classroom because both the story and the pictures express a way that Native Americans related to nature. I think students would be able to relate to this book because like the girl, they all have things that they really love and make them happy. The book was not the most exciting or thought-provoking thing I’ve ever read, but I think it could be used very effectively in combination with other books.
Mandy by Barbara D. Booth, illustrated by Jim Lamarche
This book was really neat in that it was written from the perspective of a deaf child. Mandy wonders what everything around her sounds like, and she hates night because when it is dark she cannot see to sign or read lips. The main storyline centers around the relationship between Mandy and her Grandma. When they go on a walk through the yard and woods, Grandma loses her pin that was given to her by Grandpa. They look for it, but cannot find it before dark. Even though she is scared, Mandy decides to go back outside in the dark and look again for the pin. Eventually she finds it and runs back to the house to meet Grandma.
I personally liked the book for its examination of the thoughts of a deaf girl much more than the actual storyline. I think it did a good job of showing how love and feelings can be expressed even without talking, and how just because a person is ‘different’ that does not mean that there are not similarities as well. This book could probably be used by students to pick out literary elements such as theme, setting, plot events, word choice, descriptive language, etc. Other literary activities could also stem from reading this book, such as writing their own story from the point-of-view of a child who is deaf.