A young American solider loses his illusions after he sees the people his sergeant defines as the “enemy” — an old woman and babies “crying on the mud roads”
My public library has been using Walter Dean Myers’s Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam (HarperCollins, 32 pages, $16.89, ages 8 and up) in a summer reading program, and I picked it up thinking I might review it along with last week’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. But it deserves a post of its own, and not just because it reflects a collaboration between the much-admired Myers and Caldecott Honor artist Ann Grifalconi. Patrol might look like a book for preschoolers, albeit with an unusual theme: a soldier’s frightening first patrol in Vietnam. But it’s an anti-war story for older children. Nobody dies or gets hurt when a young radio operator and his squad take cover during a firefight. But the soldier loses his illusions about war after facing unsettling events, such as having to “secure” a village. He sees the people his sergeant defines as “the enemy”: “A brown woman with rivers of age etched deeply into her face. / An old man, his eyes heavy with memory. / And babies. Babies. / Little enemies crying on the mud roads.” In other words, Patrol is for children who can handle irony and emotionally difficult material, but some of them may feel too old for a 32-page picture book. So it might best used as an aid to a structured discussion in a classroom, youth group or pacifist family with 8-to-12-year-olds. Patrol may deal with Vietnam. But if the U.S. leaves Iraq, adults may wonder how to explain that move to children, and Myers and Grifalconi have given them some help.
Furthermore: Patrol won a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award from the Jane Addams Peace Association. He lives in New Jersey.
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.