May is National Military Appreciation Month, a time for all of us to reflect upon the historical impact of the military, and honor those who served or are currently serving in the armed forces. Here are fiction titles for middle grade readers with an interest in stories that relate to the U.S. military (both past and present) and want to explore the lives of children who have family members serving.
Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
When Brother’s dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. (From MUF contributor Rosanne Parry.)
Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz
A moving story about Justin, whose older brother Kyle is killed in Afghanistan, leaving behind not only a grieving family, but a traumatized military canine named Max. When Max and Justin meet, the heartbroken boy and the troubled dog may be able to help each other as they grapple with their loss—if they’re able to learn to trust each other.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Sixth grader Ally may be smart, but things aren’t easy for her. Her military dad has been deployed overseas and she’s struggling in school because of a undiagnosed learning disability. But with a new teacher and a supportive group of buddies, Ally may have a chance to come out of her shell and find her own, unique way.
Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines by Joseph Bruchac
A fictional story inspired by true events of the incredible Navajo code talkers of World War II, whose unbreakable code, using their native language, saved countless American lives. In this older middle grade/early YA story, readers meet sixteen-year-old Ned, a Navajo teen who becomes a code talker.
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
On the highly disciplined Air Force base, sixth-grade teacher Ms. Loupe sure is different–from her unique style to her interest in improv and theater games. But her students come to love her, and when Ms. Loupe’s brother goes missing in Afghanistan, the kids and and the community come together to support her.
Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Lonnie and Lili are siblings who are in separate foster homes after their parents died in a fire. Both are in loving homes, but Lonnie wants to be sure the siblings stay in touch, so he writes his little sister a series of letter to remember each other and their lives together. In them, we learn about Lonnie’s life, and the issues raised when Lonnie’s foster brother is injured in the war and returns to live at home.
(Younger elementary and early MG readers will appreciate Woodson’s picture book, Coming on Home Soon, during World War II. It tells the story of Ada Ruth, who stays behind with her grandmother when Ada Ruth’s mother leaves for Chicago, one of the many women filling jobs left empty by the men who went off to fight in the war.)
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Thirty three poems about the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II American fighter pilots. Racism meant their bravery and accomplishments were woefully underappreciated for far too long after the war.
Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
It’s 1944, and Lily is spending the summer with her grandmother in Rockaway, New York. When Lily’s father is drafted and Lily’s best friend moves away, Lily finds herself sad and alone. That is, until she meets a Hungarian refugee her own age named Albert, and the two bond in this realistic and age-appropriate portrayal of what life during World War II.