Tag Archive | military

Cecil’s Story by George Ella Lyon


Cecil's Story by George Ella Lyon

“Think of it,” reads the book’s inside flap. “Your father is a soldier in the Civil War.” And the book doesn’t run from its premise. “If your papa went off to war…” begins the first sentence of Cecil’s Story. There’s a drawing of a shadowy room as a child eats breakfast in the sunshine.

The sentence rambles across two more pages – a beautiful drawing of a yellow sky and an orange sunrise, blue clouds spreading over a green field and a purple horizon. “…he might get hurt,” says page two.

“…and your mama might go to fetch him,” says page three.

The book was written in 1991 – the same year the U.S.entered the Gulf War in Iraq- and its story was said to be particularly timely. The journey to fetch your father might be long, warns page four. (Three children are left at a neighbor’s, one child unable to sleep.) “You’d help look after their cows,” reads the first cheerful caption, showing the boy with a beagle and five black and white cows in a field. 12 faded circles represent the sun as it moves over the fuzzy tree silhouettes in the background, leading up to the sad conclusion of the sentence.

“…and not cry till nighttime…”

The dog puts his head on the lap of the boy – seen from behind – as he waits for weeks for a word from his mother which doesn’t come. In the foreground, a chick hatches from an egg – 12 drawings showing the egg’s interior as it moves from yolk to life.

It’s the Civil War which has stopped the messages from getting through. The neighbors advise the boy to be brave, but he worries. There’s a drawing of a grey field – soldiers marching on the horizon. But even the soldiers in the foreground are faint and faded. He imagines his family without his father – the boy watching over his mother, raising the farm animals by himself. Would the plow be too tall? An orange and grey image fades into his patchwork bedspread – with the boy seen in the background, kneeling and praying.

“If your papa went away to war,” Lyon repeats again, this time adding to the hypothetical that he came back missing a limb or with a bad scar – “you wouldn’t be afraid, because you’d know he was still your papa…” They show the boy holding a stick with the fish that his papa had taught him how to catch, and a speeding rabbit that the boy would snare in a trap his papa helped him build.

And the last sentence reminds the reader gently that he’s still your father who shows the same tenderness, calling him “the man strong enough to lift you now with just one arm.”

When Dad’s at Sea, by Mindy L. Pelton

When Dad's at Sea, by Mindy L. Pelton

When Dad’s at Sea has an obvious message: a little girl will miss her father during his time away in the Navy. The realistic illustrations (by Robert Gantt Steele) try to dispel the mystery, showing exactly where the Navy pilot goes. But it’s really the story of the pilot’s daughter, and it describes all her feelings throughout the long absences of her father during his service. And in telling her story, Mindy L. Pelton sends a message to other children of military personnel: that they are not alone.

The book is dedicated “to Katherine and Meredith, and to the children and families of our United States Armed Forces,” but it still finds a fanciful tone. To help his daughter keep track of his days at sea, the father builds a long paper chain which they hang on the living room wall. “Take off one circle every night,” he tells his daughter Emily. “I’ll come back when the chain is gone.” The book finds a way to make the girl’s feelings tangible. The little girl hides the chain under her bed, and hopes that will make her father stay home.

It’s a dramatic story, but all the drama comes from the little girl’s sadness over her father’s departure. He says he doesn’t want to leave “the two most special people in the world,” but even when he was still at home, the girl remembered that “I missed Dad before he even left.” Some days he lives with the family in “a blue house with an American flag on the porch.” But other days he lives “with pilots, like himself, and sailors on a U.S. Navy ship carrying rows of airplanes.”

And despite the sad subject matter, there’s also some sweet moments. The little girl discovers her dad was on TV – since her mother had videotaped the father reading a bedtime story before he left. In the first circle on the paper chain, the father had written “I love you.” He sends the family an email every day from the ship. And the girl even discovers a new friend in town who’s father is also away on a long Navy cruise. “Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone…”

The girls trace their father’s journey on a map of the world. And perhaps fittingly, the end of the journey seems to arrive surprisingly fast. The girls paint “Welcome Home” signs to hang for his return. And of course, there’s a happy ending. “There he is , Emily!” yells the little girls mother. The father removes his helmet and strolls out of his airplane, and he’s carrying a bouquet of flowers. The end is predictable, but it’s still very satisfying.

He says to his daughter that “The chain is gone, and your dad is home.”

All Those Secrets of the World by Jane Yolen

All Those Secrets of the World by Jane Yolen book cover
“My cousin Michael was five and I was four when my father went off to war.” It’s the first line of a poignant children’s book capturing the childhood memories of Jane Yolen. Yolen wrote the award-winning children’s book “Owl Moon,” about a child’s late-night stroll through the snow. But she tackles a much more ambitious memory in “All Those Secrets of the World.”

Yolen remembers the family’s trip to the docks to watch her father’s ship sail away. Her father kisses her and hugs the family, and “hundreds of grown-ups crowded around, waving handkerchiefs and crying.” The little girl waves a flag, and hears the tuba in a band playing the song “Over There.” And then her father’s ship is gone, as dirty waves slap the pylons. “[E]veryone had a good time, except Mama, who cried all the way home…”

It’s a very moving story about a family affected by war, told from a child’s simpler viewpoint. And it’s the illustrations that make it seem even more real, with bright watercolors suggesting a sunny childhood day, while the child report’s on the day’s events matter of factly. She goes to the beach with her brother, where they see black specks on the horizon. “Are those birds?” asks the girl. But they’re not. They’re ships, “taking soldiers across the sea to war,” her brother tells her. And the illustration shows their innocence in the moment, with the two children wading at the edge of a vast ocean under white clouds, with the ships just visible on the horizon.

They couldn’t be ships, the girl insists. “Those specks are no bigger than my thumb.” And the brother demonstrates that things look smaller when they’re futher away. “‘Come back, come back,’ I cried, suddenly afraid he’d disappear forever like the ships gone from the horizon, dropped over the edge of the world…” And both children get in trouble, because they weren’t supposed to wade in the ocean.

At the end of the book, the father comes back from the war. “There were no big ships or waving flags, just a stranger in brown with his arm in a sling, unfolding himself from a cab.” The youngest son doesn’t remember the father, and yells, “Go away, you bad man. Don’t you touch my mama.” So the father lifts the little girl, who tells him that “When you are far away, everything is smaller. But now you are here…I am big.”

“‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I knew that.'”

And he kisses and hugs her again, until it all seems familiar again, and war seems like a distant secret that belongs to the outside world.