Glyn Harper (text), Jenny Cooper (illus.), My Grandfather’s War, EK Books, 21 May 2018, 32pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781775592990
Sarah is a young girl who loves spending time with her Grandpa. But he walks with a limp and is sometimes very sad. Her dad tells her that it is because her Grandpa had fought in the Vietnam War, and that she should never ask him about it. But one day Sarah gets the courage to ask him. Gently her Grandpa tells her about the war, explaining how he was hurt and how some of his friends died. He also talks about the impact the war had on the Vietnamese people, as well as the soldiers and their families. Sarah is sad for her Grandpa, but also feels proud of him when he shows her his medals.
This is a book about war that is surprisingly unlike any I have read. There is a strong message underpinning the book about the futility of the Vietnam War, and the bitter legacy of fighting a war that became very unpopular. Yet this is handled sensitively, and in a way that is suitable for children.
The gentle watercolour illustrations are full of warmth and life. They feel very real and portray a lovely relationship between Sarah and her grandfather. As the grandfather talks about the war, the accompanying illustrations depict scenes of soldiers in Vietnam that aren’t overly graphic although some are sad.
This is a special and important book. There are many children’s books about the ANZACs, but few about Vietnam. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of Vietnam War’s longest battle, Khe Sahn, it’s a very timely book. As difficult and sad as these stories are, it’s essential to remember and help children understand them, especially if their grandparents and family have been impacted.
Reviewed by Rebecca Blakeney