December 13, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

25 Titles and Resources To Explore the Vietnam War

War is not a topic approached lightly in schools, especially when there are several factions and no clear-cut moral certitude for any side. Writing about the Vietnam War bears the additional burden of exposing soldiers engaged in acts of extreme cruelty, less than ideal military leaders, and the poor judgment and outright deceptions of politicians at home.

The conflict is still part of the lives of more than six million Vietnam veterans still alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, while the period may feel like distant history to school-age readers who may not even have a grandparent who recalls details from that era.

Yet sensitive authors can approach the subject in ways that examine the conflict and its aftermath with information appropriate to their audiences. Middle grade readers may have a particular fascination with battles, weaponry, tanks, and other agents of destruction, and here there are excellent choices that detail troop movements and attack tactics, with the context of political philosophies and power struggles woven in. A picture book may touch on a parent’s harrowing memory, wrapped in the safety of the child’s present-day life. The healing influence of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has the potential to open discussion without overwhelming readers who are not ready for specific details. Additionally, the honest yet hopeful stories of the immigrant “boat people” can be found in fiction and nonfiction for readers of all ages.

Elementary

HARVEY, Jeanne Walker. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. illus. by Dow Phumiruk. 32p. photos. Holt. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250112491.
K-Gr 3–Maya Lin, the daughter of Chinese parents, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while a senior at Yale. Readers meet Lin as a girl, spend time with her as a college student overseeing the memorial’s construction, and leave her as an artist-architect at her drawing table in adulthood. Bold yet delicate and detailed drawings in muted, natural colors are matched with brief and meaningful blocks of text.

PHI, Bao. A Different Pond. illus. by Thi Bui. 32p. Capstone. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781623708030.
K-Gr 3–As told by poet Phi’s spare language, an unnamed Vietnamese boy joins his father for a predawn fishing outing on a Minnesota pond. The father’s fractured English sounds like “gentle rain,” even as he alludes to a different pond in troubled Vietnam, before he fled Saigon. Bui’s deep blues and slightly rough-edged illustrations perfectly complement this touching and hopeful story.

SKRYPUCH, Marsha Forchuk with Tuan Ho. Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. illus. by Brian Deines. 40p. maps. photos. Pajama. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781772780055.
K-Gr 3–A serious story, told with hope and love. Ho describes leaving Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with his mother and sisters to board a crowded boat, hoping for rescue and a better life. The illustrations render bullets as thin lines and bright starbursts, and swaths of oranges, reds, and golden tones accompany the hot sun. Back matter includes family photographs and brief details of the war.

Middle Grade

BURGAN, Michael. Death at Kent State: How a Photograph Brought the Vietnam War Home to America. 64p. bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Capstone. 2016. lib. ed. $34.65. ISBN 9780756554248.
Gr 5-8–Beginning on the day John Filo’s iconic Kent State photograph was taken, the narrative quickly circles back to provide background on how the United States became involved in Vietnam and why the U.S. presence was controversial. It includes details of the shooting of the four students killed and the resulting investigation and follows up on the memorials at the school.

MCNAB, Chris. 50 Things You Should Know About the Vietnam War. 80p. chron. glossary. index. maps. photos. QEB. 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781609929619.
Gr 4-8–Featuring spreads with bright infographics, arrows, photos, and colorful boxed text, this evenhanded, concise overview presents 50 topics in roughly chronological order. Some subjects, such as “The Viet Cong,” “Helicopter War,” “Defoliants,” and “Drugs and Discipline,” could be listed in any order.

OTFINOSKI, Steven. The Vietnam War. (A Step into History). 144p. chron. further reading. glossary. maps. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. 2017. lib. ed. $36. ISBN 9780531225707. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780531243640.
Gr 5-8–A balanced and clear depiction of Vietnam’s history and the political developments that led to the U.S. involvement. Details of military and leadership, battles and political philosophies, are thoughtfully conveyed in short chapters. Back matter includes information on key players, making this useful for research. (Note: The text mistakenly places the Gulf of Tonkin in South Vietnam.)

RICE, Earle, Jr. The Vietnam War. (Major U.S. Historical Wars). 64p. chron. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Mason Crest. 2016. Tr $23.95. 9781422233597.
Gr 5-8–Readers are introduced to the causes of the war, key individuals, political ideology, and important incidents and battles, from the roots of the conflict in the 1940s through “Peace with Honor.” “Words To Understand in This Chapter” and frequent photographs clarify and expand the context. The back matter will likely prove helpful to readers.

RUBIN, Susan Goldman. Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands. 112p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Chronicle. 2017. Tr $17.99. 9781452108377.
Gr 4-8–Divided into chapters by project, this narrative takes readers beyond Maya Lin’s best-known achievement, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and shares details of other works and her broader life. Frequent photographs, rich colors, and intriguing layouts will hold reader interest for biography projects, history or art research, and independent reading.

SAVAGE, Melissa. Lemons. Crown. 320p. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524700126.
Gr 4-6–Lemonade Liberty Witt (aka Lem, who is almost 11) moves in with her grandfather and finds herself, somewhat reluctantly, the “official new assistant” at her neighbor Tobin’s Bigfoot Detectives, Inc. With humor and spunk, the pair investigates Bigfoot sightings in the area. A sensitive subplot involves Tobin’s dad, a Vietnam veteran.

Vietnam War. (DK Eyewitness). 72p. glossary. index. maps. photos. DK. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781465459848.
Gr 5-8–The layout of this highly visual series is fully realized in this attractive and informative paperback, now updated from the first edition (2005) for a cleaner look, with larger type and more white space. The trade-off is a slight reduction in text, though readers will still find plenty of material.

YA

BUI, Thi. The Best We Could Do. illus. by Thi Bui. 336p. Abrams. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419718779.
Gr 9 Up–Using drawings in black-and-white, accented with washes of russet colors, Bui’s graphic novel memoir is emotionally riveting as it moves from the 2015 birth of her son to her parents’ childhoods in French Indochina, while touching on all points in between. Complex family ties and national political issues are brought to a personal level with Bui’s detailed sketches, punctuated with pockets of irony and humor.

FREEDMAN, Russell. Vietnam: A History of the War. 160p. bibliog. chron. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. Holiday House. 2016. Tr $20. ISBN 9780823436583.
Gr 7 Up–Freedman draws readers into the politics and key battles of the Vietnam War as well as protests on the home front and the fall of Saigon and its aftermath. He also focuses on Vietnam’s early history through the French occupation and Barack Obama’s respectful 2015 White House meeting with the head of Vietnam’s Communist Party. Thoughtful and sure to hold the attention of most readers. (A teachers guide is available online.)

LAI, Thanhhà. Listen, Slowly. 272p. Harper Collins. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978006 2229182.
Gr 5-8–Mai, born and raised in California, doesn’t feel overly connected to her Vietnamese roots. Her summer plans (and her easy Internet access!) are disrupted when she accompanies grandmother Bà to Vietnam. Bà holds out hope that Mai’s grandfather may have survived the war. Throughout, there is plenty of warm humor.

MILAM, Ron, ed. The Vietnam War in Popular Culture: The Influence of America’s Most Controversial War on Everyday Life. 2 Vol. 774p. index. Praeger. 2016. Tr $164. ISBN 9781440840463.
Gr 9 Up–The two volumes (“During the War,” “After the War”) include 37 essays, each 15 to 25 pages, exploring how the Vietnam War influenced and is reflected in popular culture. The diverse topics include Playboy magazine, music, comic book heroes, and Chicano movies. The volumes are indexed separately and do not include photos. Of most use for older readers for an assignment or those who have a sincere interest in the topic.

SHALLY-JENSEN, Michael, ed. Vietnam War: 1956–1976. (Defining Documents in American History). 288p. appendix. bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Salem. 2015. Tr $175. ISBN 9781619258525.
Gr 9 Up–Sections on “Kennedy’s War,” “Johnson’s War,” “The Antiwar Movement,” “Nixon’s War,” and “Aftermath” organize the 44 essays, most running five to 10 pages, with occasional photos. Essays follow a general format of overview and context of primary sources and conclude with back matter. The reproduced documents include a transcript of a televised interview with John F. Kennedy, a recommendation for troop increases, and the pardon of draft evaders. Print purchase includes ebook access.

SHEINKIN, Steve. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. 384p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Roaring Brook. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439528.
Gr 7 Up–In captivating detail, Sheinkin introduces readers to Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon staff hawk who switched allegiance and painstakingly photocopied more than 7,000 documents detailing secret government reports of the U.S. involvement in the war, which he handed over to the New York Times. The epilogue references Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak of government documents. Highly readable and meticulously researched.

The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated Edition. 360p. chron. illus. index. maps. photos. DK. 2017. Tr $40. ISBN 9781465457691.
Gr 7 Up–Rich resources from the Smith­sonian combine with outstanding visuals and graphics from DK in this oversize volume. It is organized chronologically, with spreads on wide-ranging topics, including the Ho Chi Minh Trail, chemical warfare, the African American experience, and Henry Kissinger. Abundant maps, photos, text boxes, and graphics aid students in understanding complex issues.

ZEISS, Joyce Burnes. Out of the Dragon’s Mouth. 240p. Flux. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738741963.
Gr 8 Up–Mai, 14, and her uncle Hiep are among the “boat people” desperate to escape South Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal and the fall of Saigon. They survive a perilous crossing to face hardships with Small Auntie in a Malaysian refugee camp. Mai uses her wits, hard work, and occasional luck to forge friendships, which makes life bearable while she waits—hoping to hear her name on the loudspeaker—to be selected for a flight out.

Maggie Knapp is a librarian at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, TX.

Media picks

DVD

Last Days in Vietnam. (American Experience). 3:40 hrs. PBS. 2015. $19.99. UPC 841887024044.
Gr 9 Up–Filmmaker Rory Kennedy blends archival footage, interviews, and eyewitness accounts to reconstruct portions of the Vietnam War and the chaotic U.S. departure from Saigon. The film presents an emotionally powerful picture of the final days and the plight of South Vietnamese citizens desperate to escape as North Vietnamese soldiers closed in.

Vietnamerica. 90 min. Tugg Edu. vietnamericamovie.com. 2017. $75. UPC 888295470582.
Gr 9 Up–More than 500,000 Vietnamese people fled in the years immediately following the U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam. Through interviews with U.S. military personnel and extensive personal accounts from refugee Master Hoá Tien Nguyen, documentarian Scott Edwards tells a brutal but ultimately hopeful story of the exodus of “boat people” looking for a better life.

The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. 18 hrs. 10 discs. PBS. 2017. $99.99. ISBN 978153 1701734.
Gr 9 Up–With the same sweeping coverage and meticulous attention that earned the filmmakers a national following, Burns and Novick probe the war from all directions. Ten years in the making, the documentary combines current footage with historic photos and film, iconic music, and interviews with Viet Cong veterans, South Vietnamese fighters, U.S. soldiers, and more into a superb and absorbing 18 hours. A companion book by Geoffrey C. Ward is available from Knopf.

Websites

Congressional Medal of Honor Society. cmohs.org/recipient-archive.php.
Gr 7 Up–An advanced search allows users to narrow queries by conflict for details of Medal of Honor recipients and their heroic actions.

Library of Congress Veterans History Project. loc.gov/vets.
Gr 6 Up–The Veterans History Project “collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may…better understand the realities of war.” Users can filter searches by branch of service, conflict, era, and more and find videos, audio, photos, and documents uploaded by Vietnam War veterans and family members.

The Vietnam Center and Archive. vietnam.ttu.edu.
Gr 8 Up–The collection, sponsored by Texas Tech University, preserves documents and records and encourages research related to the U.S. experience in the war. Digitized material includes a graffiti project (such as scribbled names on the underside of bunk beds), a map collection, and a fledgling teachers resources area (still actively seeking materials in some areas).

Vietnam War Websources. tom.pilsch.com/Vietnam.html.
Tom Pilsch, a retired professor of the practice of national security at the Georgia Institute of Technology, maintains this comprehensive list of web resources on a wide variety of topics.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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