I had no idea that for the past thirty years or more, a white table with an empty chair has been set in military dining halls all across America. In this book, a family goes about setting a white table for those lost or missing in action during the Vietnam war. Although this book is actually about Veteran’s Day (a holiday to honor the living, whereas Memorial Day is meant to pay respects to those that have passed away) there is some discussion of Memorial Day in the Author’s Note at the back of the book.
In this story, a little girl’s mother shows her three children how to set a table for a guest who will never arrive. She covers the table with a white cloth to “honor a soldier’s pure heart” and she places a lemon slice and salt on the plate to show a ‘captive soldier’s bitter fate and the tears of families waiting for loved ones to return.”
And if this isn’t sad enough, the mother then pushes an empty chair in front of the table in order to pay respects to the soldiers who are not there. The mother tells the children the story of how their Uncle John tried to save a fellow crew member during an escape from imprisonment, but the friend did not survive.
The narrator of the story traces the word “hero” in the salt on the plate, and it’s a little heartbreaking, even to this writer who has never lost a friend or family member to a war (thank goodness).
There are many, many excellent chapter books that address the Vietnam War and World War II, but it’s very difficult to get at the meaning of Memorial Day in a picture book for young children. I think this book handles the topic with sensitivity, and gets at something much deeper and important than what goes on during all those barbecues and parades. ABZ