Saturday, June 9, 2012
We Were Heroes: the Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins by Walter Dean Myers
This week on June 6th, I was sitting in the Children's Book and Author Breakfast at the BEA and listening to a short speech by Walter Dean Myers. Myers is at the moment serving as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and not surprisingly, he is also the author of more than a few children's and YA books. Myers work cover a wide variety of topical themes, tough topics such as war, murder, drugs, juvy jail. But Myers has also written some wonderful historical fiction for teens, like The Glory Field, the 250 year history of an African American family from the first ancestor forcibly brought to this country in 1753 to their lives in the 1990s.
Among Myers's other historical fiction is a short novel about the D-Day landings told through the eyes of a 17 year old boy, Scott Pendleton Collins, who enlists in the army, hoping to emulate the bravery of his great grandfather and father.who fought in the Civil War and World War I respectively. Their pictures hang in the Collins living room because they are considered war heroes by the family. And it is Scott's hope that someday his picture will hang with theirs.
No one was supposed to write anything about what was going on in a war in case they were captured and had written some vital information down that could be of use to the enemy. And Scott knows this, but he begins to write about his experiences anyway. And so we get a privileged look at his life at this pivotal moment in time, beginning in England and the monotony of training day after day while waiting for weather conditions to be perfect for a successful landing at Normandy Beach. The idea is to first take the beach back from the German army and that to quickly push the enemy further back until France is liberated. But finally the weather is good and the trip across the English Channel begins. It sounds so easy in theory, but when the chaplain prays for the souls of those who won't make it, war becomes a sobering reality. Scott begins to realize this and just before they reach France, he writes in his diary: "We know we're going to be fighting and some guys are going to get wounded or even killed. This is what war is all about. I am a little scared myself."
And scared for good reason - the invasion is not anything like Scott could have imagined. Knowing people would get killed was nothing compared to the reality of what happes in the water and on the beach. Yet, Scott manages to survive and keep going. As he moves forward, he gets separated from his outfit and has a few close calls trying to make his way back to them. But heavy loses keep forcing the army to reform the men into different outfits and companies and he finds himself in different units until he finally finds what is left of outfit his again.
More and more, Scott experiences the loss of old friends he grew up with in Virginia and new friends he made since joining up. This is perhaps the hardest part of the D-Day battle for him, prompting him to poignantly write in his diary "we had come over here as an outfit of neighbors. Now there were spaces in our minds where friends used to be."
Of all the books I could have chosen for D-Day, I thought this was the best one. I had two reasons for choosing it: 1- it shows, without the glorifying graphic detailed gore depicting the horrible realities of war which are always good to remember in the hope that we can avoid future wars, and 2- it reminds us that when we do remember battles like D-Day, it is the soldiers we honor and not the war.
I think Scott is a good example of a brave boy who didn't fully understand war and his diary was his way of trying to come to terms with it, as much as that is possible. Myers has created an excellent work of coming of age historical fiction, so real feeling there is even an epilogue telling the reader about the lives of certain characters after the war. In fact, Scott's diary is so realistic that once I even went to the copyright page to double check that it was indeed fiction. In the short span of three months, we can watch Scott's coming of age process, from being the kid they called Smoothie because he didn't even shave yet to becoming a seasoned war hero who definitely deserves to have his picture hanging next to his great grandfather and father.
The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins is the kind of book that ends up on summer reading lists and I hope that some kids actually do read it this summer, as well as perhps some of the other fine books by Walter Dean Myers.
This book is recommended for readers age 9-12.
This book was purchased for my personal library.
A discussion guide for The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins can be found at Scholastic.
Kid Konnection is a weekly meme hosted by Booking Mama
Posted by Alex Baugh at 10:37 AM
Labels: D-Day, Family, France, Friendship, Middle Grade
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While reading your review, I was convinced this was a ‘true story’ it certainly reads that way. Another excellent review and I know I will be buying and reading 'we were heroes' soon.ReplyDelete
Myers did a really good job at creating a realistic novel. I hope you like it as much as I did.ReplyDelete
Interesting new cover. I should buy a new one, since it looks like a dog nibbled on my library copy. Myers does awfully good war books.ReplyDelete
I thought the cover was interesting, too. And the story would probably appeal to boys more than girls. I agree, Myers does write good war books.Delete
Great review again Alex and I agree that the cover is wonderful. This is exactly the kind of book I would have liked when I was a teen.ReplyDelete
Great post for D-Day.
Thanks, Zohar. I am not surprised this would have appealled to you. Probably does to lots of young boys. It was just so well done.Delete
This sounds like an important book for today's young children to read. Even adults could benefit. We all need to be reminded that it's our boys who fight the wars for our country. Sad, but true. Loved your review of the book, Alex.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Deb, I thought this was one of the better kids books that covered combat (not a favorite of mine, usually) but leave it to Walter Dean Myers to do it.Delete
I would love to read this book. I like that it isn't gory and that it portrays the timeperiod well. We all need to remember what has happened to ensure our freedom. D-Day is an important day for the world and this book sounds like something more young people should read. Excellent review!ReplyDelete
I liked it because it ws not gory, but really the portrayal of a young man scared of war after realizing it was what he thought it would be like. I hope kids read the reissue of this book, too.Delete
Read this while researching for BLUE. I have it in a boxed set with 3 other WWII stories.ReplyDelete
I might just reread them for my WIP.
Wow -- this sounds amazing! I am so glad that you shared this one with me because I wasn't familiar with it. Definitely going on my must-read list!ReplyDelete
Stories about D-Day always touch me. The bravery of those soldiers and their sacrifice just say so much about humanity. This sounds like a really good book and I love your review style!ReplyDelete
Juli @ Universe in Words