April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Remembering D-Day

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Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied troops launched an audacious assault on a 50-mile expanse of heavily defended coastline in Normandy, France. Led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and planned down to the smallest detail, the massive amphibious attack assembled and mobilized mind-staggering numbers of Allied troops and resources—156,000 soldiers, 13,000 parachutists, 5,000 ships, and 11,000 planes. Though many lives were lost, the Normandy invasion enabled the Allies to establish a foothold in France, created a crack in Nazi Germany’s stalwart “Fortress Europe,” and ultimately turned the tide of World War II. Introduce your students to this watershed moment in history with fact-packed resources loaded with primary quotes, archival photographs, and helpful maps.

d daySkillfully adapting The Guns at Last Light (2013) for a younger audience, Rick Atkinson provides an engrossing, informative, and stunningly written account of D-Day (2014, both Holt; Gr 6 Up). Easy-to-digest chapters describe the elaborate planning and preparation for the campaign, from training soldiers and stockpiling matériel to inflatable decoys and other top-secret red herrings. Each aspect of the multi-pronged invasion is covered individually, delving into paratrooper and glider missions as well as events at the five landing sites. A brief epilogue is followed by additional background and statistics.

The book offers a thorough overview, but it’s the vividly conveyed details that bring history to life. Unforgettable are the merchant marine captains who huddled in a London basement to map out efficient cargo-loading plans with blueprints and “wooden blocks scaled to every jeep, cannon, and shipping container,” and the war-weary Tommies who tossed objects out of transport planes hoping to “bop a sleeping German” with “bricks inscribed with vulgar words, a soccer ball painted to resemble Hitler’s face, [or] a stuffed moose head.” Atkinson’s writing is gripping and often lyrical, describing how American paratroopers boarded their aircraft “holding their knives aloft in homicidal resolve,” or “German shells soared over the [Normandy] bay in crimson curves.”

Plentiful quotes provide dramatic eyewitness perspectives and allow readers to follow individual soldiers through the harrowing events, underscoring their quick-thinking adaptability, astounding courage, and deep-seated commitment. Captioned archival photos and reproductions of war posters and documents add a visual element to the cache of primary resources, and clear battle maps buttress the text.

drezInvitingly written, Ronald J. Drez’s Remember D-Day (National Geographic, 2004; Gr 5-10) begins with a brief look at World War II, followed by quick-reading chapters that cover the campaign’s planning stages, fascinating facts about the various deceptions deployed to keep the landing site secret, the made-difficult-by-weather decision to go forward and initial airborne attacks, and actual invasion. Nestled within the epic-scale action are glimpses at the heart-rending experiences of particular soldiers, told through archival photos and primary quotes. For example, readers meet Private Ken Russell, a 17-year-old paratrooper jumping into the burning French countryside on the very night of his Tennessee high school’s senior prom, who was pinned down when his parachute caught on a church belfry and saved from a fatal bullet by the heroic last act of a dying comrade.

The book’s large-size format showcases the crisply reproduced photos, illustrations, and maps, making these images particularly riveting. Though not quite as in-depth as Atkinson’s work, Remember D-Day provides an accessible and illuminating look at the invasion.

d day atlasWritten by British military historian Charles Messenger and recently updated with a new introduction, The D-Day Atlas (Thames & Hudson, 2014; Gr 10 Up) is a visually rich and fact-dense resource. The book begins by tracing the trial-by-fire evolution of amphibious attacks through the war’s earlier years, indicating how lessons learned influenced the Normandy invasion. Other chapters detail the German defenses in France, D-Day preparation and planning, the invasion and “Beachhead Battles,” and the Allied expansion through France.

More than 70 maps depict the location of specific military units and resources, objectives, attacks and counterattacks, and the always-shifting front line, providing insight into the developing events. Archival photos are scattered throughout, along with line drawings of ships, aircraft, tanks, and weaponry. With a more challenging vocabulary, this volume is most appropriate for advanced readers looking for detailed information, and educators.

Combining visually enticing formats, dynamic writing, and elucidating primary materials, these titles can expand classroom studies, satisfy history buffs, and draw in general readers. Taken individually or as a grouping, they can also be used to touch upon Common Core Standards such as analyzing how an author unfolds a series of events (RI 9-10.3), integrating visual information with other information in print and digital texts (RH 6-8.7), and comparing the point of view of two or more authors treating the same topic (RH 9-10.6).

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.



  1. George Rishel, The Sly Fox bookstore says:

    An outstanding book for middle readers. Well written. Full of facts. Narrative moves right along. We need more of our nonfiction authors to do versions for middle readers. A condensed version, not a dumbed-down version. They’ve done the research and can do a better job than someone starting out to just do a middle grade history or nonfiction book. I’m a great admirer of Rick Atkinson and his books. Publishers need to sit up and take notice and get more nonfiction authors to do books for kids.