11 Books that Help Share the Meaning of Memorial Day

Don't Forget God Bless Our Troops

Memorial Day originated during the Civil War as Decoration Day in 1868; the Grand Army of the Republic wanted it to become a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became the familiar date and name that we all observe today. Despite the changes over the years, the purpose has stayed the same: to honor our military members who gave their lives for our country. Now, that may be a challenging concept for some kids, and some parents, but here are a few fantastic books to help bring home the meaning in a relatable way. During this holiday weekend, maybe while waiting for a parade to start, or enjoying the sun and BBQs with family, bring along some of these worthy reads to share with the kids.

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and her Tribute to Veterans, by Barbara E. Walsh and Layne Johnson
At the beginning of WWI, Moina Michael was a professor at University of Georgia. Like many other women on the homefront, she contributed to the war effort by knitting, rolling bandages, and collecting items to be sent to troops overseas. But she wanted to do more. So, she left her job and traveled to New York to open a place where soldiers could come for a little rest and relaxation. But that still wasn’t enough. Inspired by a poem, Moina Belle Michael began wearing and distributing poppies. It was a simple gesture that grew into a grand movement. Today, the poppy is recognized as the symbol of fallen soldiers, all because one woman refused to let those soldiers be forgotten. (Ages 6 – 10)

America’s White Table, by Margot Theis Raven and Mike Benny
Another longstanding tradition, the white table is set to honor the fallen, missing, or captive.  In this picture, Katie and her sisters are asked to set the table in honor of their Uncle John. As each piece is added to the table, the girls’ mother explains the significance of the item, from the size of the table, to the lemon wedge, to the empty chair. Informative, but highly readable, the text is appropriate for a wide variety of ages.

Let’s Celebrate Memorial Day, by Barbara deRubertis
It sometimes happens that Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day get grouped together, as the country joins in support of our troops both past and present. But each holiday has its own purpose. Let’s Celebrate Memorial Day is a book written for newly independent readers, and briefly but accurately highlights the history and purpose of the holiday.  This is a great pick for both home and classroom libraries, where it can be used as a foundation for further discussion. (Ages 6 – 9)

Rolling Thunder, by Kate Messner and Greg Ruth
As somebody who has lived in the Washington DC suburbs for over 10 years, the Rolling Thunder tradition is an integral part of Memorial Day. On that weekend, the roads become crowded with bikers coming from all over the country to honor the fallen and the missing. This lyrical rhyming picture book depicts the experience of one small boy as he joins his grandfather for the famous ride. He hears the stories of other veterans, has the thrill of riding in a sidecar, and experiences the solemnity of the Vietnam Wall. A nice introduction to a highly respected tradition. (Ages 4 – 8)

Memorial Day, by Emma Carlson Berne, Simone Kruger, with music by Mark Mallman
While the text in this book for young readers does mention Memorial Day as the start of summer, and highlights the parades and music, it also spends some time explaining the significance of the holiday. The bright, friendly illustrations will appeal to small children, as will the chance to interact with the text through clapping, stomping and a variety of other movement opportunities. A great read aloud, with an age-appropriate message. (Ages 5 – 7)

The Civil War: An Interactive History Adventure, by Matt Doeden
Since the idea of Memorial Day began during the Civil War, it makes sense to pick up some books set during the same time period. A unique choose-your-own-adventure format puts middle grade readers right in the middle of the battles, from Gettysburg to Chancellorsville; few things bring home the reality of a situation like being asked to make tough choices yourself, plus there is a lot of room for rereading and new discoveries in Doeden’s book. Another great Civil War choice for middle grade readers is The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale, where readers follow 11 year old bugle player Gabe into the The Battle at Gettysburg as he tries to protect his older brother and make sense of the fighting. (Ages 8 – 12)

Soldier (DK Eyewitness Series), by Simon Adams
The Eyewitness Series is a fantastic resource for introducing kids to realistic topics in an approachable, informative way. Memorial Day can be a difficult topic when kids want to know specifics. Using books like SoliderVietnam War, and others offers kids enough facts that they can appreciate the holiday’s meaning without being overwhelmed by the details. The real pictures, maps, and true accounts can be super engaging for kids who always want to ask a million questions—and there may even be new facts for some parents too! (Ages 8-12)

Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front, by Suzanne Collins and James Proimos
Year of the Jungle, a based on true-events story from the writer of The Hunger Games, follows young Suzy as her dad leaves for the Vietnam War. Collins writes in a way that is sincere and thoughtful, but that won’t be too much for little readers. The wonderful illustrations give the book some lightness and whimsy so that anyone can enjoy and relate to the story. Part of growing up is learning empathy and thankfulness, and stepping into the shoes of another, especially on a day like Memorial Day, can help families embrace those important ideas. Families can revisit this book, and the next one on our list, on Veteran’s Day as well. (Ages 4-8)

Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, by Jill Biden and Raúl Colón
The Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, has also written a book inspired by her own family’s experiences. Told from the view point of Natalie, her granddaughter, young readers will be able to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by military service members and their families. There are also some really great ideas on helping kids, both your own and those of other military families, to celebrate and support each other. Memorial Day isn’t just about being thankful to those who have lost their lives in war; it is about supporting their families as well. (Ages 5-8)

US History Through Infographics, by Karen Latchana Kenney and Laura Kay Westlund
Looking at the timeline of American history, and America’s involvement in combat, can be hard for kids to grasp. This visually interesting book puts nearly everything about American history into easy to understand and unique infographics. Sometimes a number, or a easy to read chart, can open up ideas to kids that they might not have understood before. Since the Revolution, America has fought in many wars, and many brave men and women have given their lives for our country. Books like this have the power to show kids what they were fighting for. (Ages 8-10)

The Wall, by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
In another beautifully drawn picture book, this gentle story follows a young boy and his father as they search for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Using soft illustrations and a calm narrative voice, Bunting and Himler have created a loving book about a difficult topic. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is the simple way, as this book shows. During Memorial Day, or before any trip to visit The Wall in Washington DC, this book should be on everyone’s must read list. (Ages 4-7)

How does your family celebrate Memorial Day?

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