Monday, May 26, 2008

A Few Words on Memorial Day

Back when I was a high school teacher, I worked in a school with a vice principal who was a veteran of the war in Vietnam. Each year, on the Friday before Memorial Day, he organized a simple and moving Memorial Day observance around the flagpole in front of the school. There was a color guard and music and he explained that Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day, created to honor those who died in the American Civil War. He briefly explained how it expanded into Memorial Day after World War I and he led the faculty and students in a moment of silence. He really demonstrated to the students that although the picnics and barbecues are great, there is more to Memorial Day.

With that in mind, I have an excellent book for children about the Gettysburg Address that would be perfect to read at this time of year. Although Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address during the Civil War, he movingly and in few words, gets to the heart of memorializing the dead who bravely struggled on that battlefield.

Just A Few Words, Mr. Lincoln: The Story of the Gettysburg Address by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Charles Robinson tells the story behind the writing of that famous American speech. It is made interesting by details of Abraham Lincoln's life at the time he wrote it, the fact that his son Tad was sick when he left to deliver the speech, the other guests in the house where he stayed who had to bunk together, the too small horse he originally had to ride, and so on. Fritz makes the readers understand what it was like to be in the audience standing outdoors surrounded by frsh graves listening to the president with his Kentucky accent deliver those 271 words. The book includes the Gettysburg Address at the end.

Even if you don't get around to checking out this well written easy reader, Memorial Day is a good opportunity to look up the Gettysburg Address and reread it. It's about the same length as the blog entry you just read and certainly more significant. Oh, and enjoy your barbecue!

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