May 19, 2013I bought pictures books for my dad for his birthday this year. He is in his late 80s. Why would I buy picture books (PB) for anyone over the age of eight? Because some PBs are what I call extreme cross-overs. They have high quality artwork. They have topics of interest to older men. (In this case, PBs about WWII.) And the text is not written for pre-schoolers.
Think coffee-table books. Think original. Think Father’s Day gifts for the fathers who have everything.
The two books I bought are VOICES OF PEARL HARBOR by Sherry Garland (Pelican, 2013) and THE POPPY LADY by Barbara Walsh (Calkins Creek, 2012). Both books are illustrated by Layne Johnson.
Layne oil painted the pictures on canvases. And not only did both authors, Barbara and Sherry, research deeply to write the texts, but Layne also researches before and during illustrating the books.
VOICES OF PEARL HARBOR
“I was eager to work on VOICES OF PEARL HARBOR because I have been a WWII buff since childhood,” illustrator Layne Johnson said, “and of course it would be a chance to work with Sherry. She's such a good writer. The paintings are done in oils on canvas and are very accurate. I visited Hawaii and went to the various locations mentioned in the book. Standing on the flight line at Wheeler at the historic attack time, I could see the Val bombers coming down, releasing their bombs. I could see the Zero fighters strafing the lined up P-40's . . . in my mind’s eye. I stood and paid respects on the Arizona Memorial. Looking down the edge of Ford Island, again I could picture Battleship Row. Being there made it real for me and hopefully, when the reader puts Sherry's words and my paintings together, they will feel like they were there too . . . and never forget that day of infamy.”
PEARL HARBOR AUTHOR SHERRY GARLAND’S STORY
"Father's Day was a day of sadness for my uncle, a quiet, stoic man who never spoke of the death of his only son in WWII,” Sherry Garland said. “I had heard about my cousin, Denver, all my life. Although he died before I was born, my mother spoke of him and even named one of my brother's after him. He was the only child, the pride and joy, of my aunt and uncle. Outgoing and funny, he was adored by everyone. Like many young Texas boys after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he entered the Army at age eighteen. He served in the Pacific theater in an amphibious tank division and died at the Battle of Okinawa when he was 21.
“Pelican Publishing asked me if I would be interested in writing a book about the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Sherry said. “Since I had already done some research about the Pacific War, I said, ‘yes.’ I originally wanted to include my cousin as a ‘Voice’ at the Battle of Okinawa, but logistics would not allow it.
“But my cousin was on my mind as I wrote the book,” Sherry said. “For example, when I wrote the October 1941 voice of the Japanese mother whose son is a pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy training for a mission, I imagined how my aunt and uncle must have felt, the constant fear of losing an only child. In the last line, when the Japanese mother says: "All I know is that he is my only son," it was my cousin Denver who I was thinking of. In the scene of December 8, when the teenager angrily says: "Tomorrow I'll join the Army and show the world you can't push America around like this," it was my cousin I was thinking of. And in the scene of August 15, 1945, when the mother says her husband was killed at Okinawa, it was my cousin I was thinking of.
I dedicated Voices of Pearl Harbor to my cousin. I wish my gentle uncle could have lived long enough to know that. I wish I could have placed the book in his withered hands on Father's Day and said, ‘Denver's memory will live on in this story.’"
THE POPPY LADY
“The Poppy Lady was quite a challenge,” Layne Johnson said. “Learning historic info on a character with limited photo reference was difficult but I wanted to make sure the reader was exposed to full color paintings. In other words, not sepia toned art or photos, which is what we often see. Life back then was like life now, in color! With a lot of research I think I achieved an emotional result that accurately places the viewer there. Barbara Walsh's beautiful text, THE POPPY LADY, is a true memorial to Moina Belle Michael and all veterans.”
A portion of the book's proceeds will support the National Military Family Association's Operation Purple®, which benefits children of the U.S. military.
AUTHOR BARBARA WALSH’S INSPIRATION
“In the attic of my childhood home there was a box labeled ‘Pat-World War II.’ My Dad’s service in the Army, as part of the Signal Corp, had taken him to the Philippines, New Guinea, and Los Negros Island. The box contained his war mementos,” Barbara Walsh said.
“When my fifth grade teacher asked our class to bring in a war-related item to share during Show and Tell, my Dad gave me permission to search through his box. I decided on a postcard with a red poppy pinned to one corner. It was addressed to my Mom and signed, ‘Pat’s Poppy Lady.’
”When I handed the postcard to my Dad he became very emotional,” Barbara said. “And then he told me a story about the kind woman who had helped him cope when his two brothers had been taken prisoners of war. The story touched my heart.
“Fifty years later, when I began writing for children, my Dad asked me to tell young readers about Moina. The red poppy had become a universal symbol of tribute and support for veterans,” Barbara said. “My Dad wanted Moina remembered for all she had done and continued to do for veterans, soldiers, and their families.
“It took eight years to research and write THE POPPY LADY, and from the first draft my Dad watched over my writing. But there was a surprise waiting for him. Working from a WWII photo of my Dad, Layne Johnson painted him on the Author's Note page, as the soldier accepting a poppy from Moina. The look on my Dad’s face, when he held a copy of the book in his hands, transported me back to my childhood, when he first introduced me to his ‘Poppy Lady,’” Barbara said.
“My dad will turn ninety-nine-years-old in July, and the memory of Moina’s kindness lives on in his heart.”
Although I talked about PBs as extreme cross-overs, the same can be said of many YA (young adult) novels. More and more YAs include high concept plots. Many are very literary in writing style. And statistics are showing that more and more adult readers are reading YA. (I talked to a mother in a bookstore this past weekend who told me that her daughter turned her on to YA and now that’s all she reads. Then the three of us book-talked in the YA aisle. Love it!)
So, for those who are stumped as to what to buy your father or grandfather or great-grandfather this year, I hope you’ll consider a book that appeals to all ages. And in 2014, please take a look at NO SURRENDER SOLDIER for an extreme cross-over gift. It includes a WWII Japanese soldier who survived for 28 years in the jungles of Guam, a USAF navigator stationed in Vietnam, a grandfather struggling with dementia, and a fifteen-year-old boy who wants to avenge his mother’s rape during the occupation of Guam during WWII. This riveting, suspenseful story is one for ages 13 and up. And by “up,” I mean crossing over generations of boys and men who enjoy losing themselves in a good story.