“The Celt relaxes his fists. Something changes because his eyes aren’t fierce anymore. They’re a warm, bright blue like two penny-sized chunks of sky stuck in a face as weathered as our redwood deck, and he looks like he wants to cry.”
Fourth Graders Mikey and Kyler are convinced that they’ve seen a real live Celtic warrior transported to the present as part of a secret defense project. If they track him down, they’re sure to reveal the secrets of time-travel once and for all, and write the best Veteran’s Day report in the history of fourth grade while they’re at it. Instead, they discover a different secret: the invisible effects of war on veterans of all generations and their families and the transcendent power of friendship.
Read this book because of its complex exploration of what it means to be a warrior for young boys obsessed with “war games.” A. E. Conran, who grew up in England listening to the stories of older generations who lived through the World Wars on home soil, both honors the contribution warriors make to our world and also illuminates the burdens they bear on our behalf. Rich with family relationships across the generations, real with mixed-race families and absent parents, this book elevates the allure of a mystery (the cover is printed in Hardy Boys blue and yellow) with the diversity and depth of its world.
Writers will enjoy the way Conran perfectly crafts her middle grade voice. The central role of Mikey’s relationships—with his mom who requires that he “breathe toothpaste on her” to prove he’s brushed his teeth, and his Grandpa who makes him ”chocolate-spread sandwich[es] the size of [his] military history book”—ring true for a fourth grade boy still connected to his family but old enough to sneak out after dark for the adventure of a lifetime. Conran gets every detail of voice right, from Mikey’s gullibility to his desire to impress a kind teacher with his Veteran’s Day report to his confusion about a class bully.
Add this book to your collection because there are not many books for children on post-traumatic stress that tell soldiers’ stories with so much compassion and depth. Conran delivers a sensitive examination of this intergenerational and societal problem in a gripping adventure story.
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“It’s a hard battle to get back to normal.”