While decorating the graves of the deceased is a common and ancient custom, the American practice of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers dates back to the end of the Civil War. The first recorded instance took place in Virginia in 1861. Women in Savannah, Georgia did the same the following year, decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers, and in 1863, a commemoration was held in Gettysburg. Honoring soldiers lost in battle became even more common after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While the practice, originally referred to as Decoration Day, became very common in the south, it did not start taking hold in the north until 1868. It soon spread to a national day, celebrated each year on May 30 and always honored by an address at Gettysburg. The shift toward the Memorial Day name did not come about until after World War II and was made official in 1967.
The following year, the date was officially moved to the third Monday in May to create a three day weekend in spite of protests from the VFW and others arguing that the change trivialized the holiday. And indeed, Memorial Day is often celebrated with cook outs, camping trips, swimming, boating, and massive sales at car dealerships and furniture stores; unfortunately, the core meaning of the holiday falls to the wayside for many people. Here are five books you can read with your children this Memorial Day to keep patriotism as your focus. Some will even help teach them the real meaning behind the holiday—honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
How to Bake an American Pie by Karma Wilson
How to Bake an American Pie by Karma Wilson, author of the hit picture book Bear Snores On, takes some of the imagery from the classic song “America the Beautiful” to create a rhyming story of the recipe that made the United States of America. Throughout the book, a cat and dog in chef hats mix together the ingredients from the rhyme, showcasing American imagery like the bald eagle as well as introducing children to the concept of America as a melting pot. Beautiful crosshatched illustrations from Raul Colon make this book a great Memorial Day read.
The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Skeers
The Impossible Patriotism Project is the story of Caleb, a little boy who is struggling to complete a homework assignment on the meaning of patriotism that will be displayed at the upcoming Parent's Night at his school. Other kids in his class make projects featuring symbols of American patriotism like the bald eagle and flag, as well as monuments like Mount Rushmore and the Liberty Bell, but Caleb struggles to find the connection between those things and what patriotism means to him. The ending of the book reveals Caleb's finished project, a poster depicting his father who is serving overseas in the military. This book puts patriotism in a modern context and is especially relevant for children of military families.
Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick
Sergeant Reckless is the first picture book from National Book Award Finalist Patricia McCormick. The book tells the story of Reckless, a mare found at an abandoned racetrack in the Korean War. American Marines took the emaciated racehorse in hopes of using her to carry ammunition, but she turned out to be much braver than expected and eventually she earned the rank of Staff Sergeant before enjoying her retirement in the United States. This book offers beautiful illustrations, comedy in the form of Reckless' incredible appetite, and a look at an unlikely hero of the Korean War.
Fly Girls by P. O'Connell Pearson
Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII by first time P. O'Connell Pearson is a nonfiction novel geared toward middle school-aged children. The book describes the lives of 1,100 women who served as civilian pilots in World War II transporting ammunition and supplies, ferrying planes, and assisting in testing, often at the cost of their own lives. This book offers an excellent look at the role of women during World War II; these women fought for their country though they were not formally allowed to enlist in the armed forces.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes
Widely considered to be one of the finest children's historical fiction novels of all time, Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes won the Newbery Medal in 1944 and has been in print since its original publication. The novel tells the story of apprentice silversmith Johnny Tremain who becomes a horse-boy and messenger for the Sons of Liberty after an injury forces him out of his apprenticeship at the onset of the Revolutionary War. Through Johnny, the reader bears witness to many important historical events that lead up the the war for independence. While the novel is fiction, it is well researched. Forbes also won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction in 1942 for her book Paul Revere and the World He Lived In.