Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

America at War

America at War

Poems Selected by Lee Bennett Hopki
Illustrator:  Stephen Alcorn 
For ages 8 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2008   ISBN: 978-1416918325

Over the centuries men and women from all walks of life have written poetry about war. Sometimes the poems were written in support of a war, and sometimes they were written to warn people about the horrors of war. Often the poems described what it was like to experience war, either as a civilian or as a combatant.

   For this remarkable collection Lee Bennett Hopkins brings together poems written in the past, and poems especially written for this collection, so that we can explore “America at War.” The poems are divided into eight sections, each one of which focuses on one conflict that America was involved in. These conflicts are the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Iraq War. For each section Lee Bennett Hopkins begins by providing a brief description of the conflict, just to give the reader a little background and context.

   The short introductions are followed by a selection of poems, which vary greatly in form, voice, and subject matter. For example in the Vietnam War section we begin with a poem that was written by John Kent, who was a marine. He describes how he sees a boy who is missing an arm and who has “a lifetime of hate” in his eyes after just “eight short years.”

   In her poem Charms, Georgia describes how soldiers in Vietnam carry good luck charms with them everywhere in the hope that the charms will protect them. Sometimes too the charms help to remind the soldier that somewhere, far away, he has a home of his own. These charms take many forms, from “locks of hair” and Saint Christopher medals, to photos of “wives, kids, dogs.” Often the soldiers fall asleep with their photos “clutched tightly in their fists.”

   In Whispers to the Wall Rebecca Kai Dotlitch takes us to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C, which is a long black stone wall covered with the engraved names of the fallen and missing. She reminds us that the names belong to people who “shrimped on boats, / flew planes, / studied, wrote, / collected, / kissed.” They were people just like you and me, and they are missed.

   Readers can dip into this book at will, exploring the poems and the beautiful paintings that grace its pages. Wherever they begin, and wherever they end up, readers will be rewarded with beautiful word images that are powerful and memorable.