CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 16. . . .December 17, 2010.
Highway of Heroes.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.95..
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Gillian Richardson.
At the next overpass, there are more people. Saluting. Waving flags. Fire trucks and school buses, cars and pickup trucks are parked on the bridge, too.
Leaning forward, the boy looks up. He thinks, these people couldn't have all known my dad. Not this far from home.
As the convoy continues along the highway, up and down hills and through woods, past a giant apple, barns, old shacks, and more boring fields, the boy begins watching for the next bridge...wondering...
When they come to it, it too is crowded with people.
So is the next, and the next-so many people they have to stand in rows. One behind the other. Kids. Grown-ups. Teenagers. Old people. Holding flags, or saluting, or holding their hands over their hearts. At the next bridge, someone has hung a big handmade sign over the railing. It says "Highway of Heroes."
All the people-on all the bridges-are there because of his dad. A hero.
Put yourself in the mind of a young boy, caught up in the heartbreak of losing his soldier dad, and now facing the formal repatriation ceremony that begins at CFB Trenton. Highway of Heroes traces that physical journey as well as the emotional one each family takes as its loved one returns to Canada. In the first 15 pages, the author has shared in a child's own words the feelings-sadness, loneliness, anger, confusion, amazement, calm, pride-that unfold as the motorcade travels Highway 401 to Toronto, the route that Canadians have named the Highway of Heroes in honor of fallen soldiers. The language is simple, the story told in present tense helping each reader experience a close connection with the event.
Generously illustrated with photos showing the extent of the crowds gathered on bridges along the route, or the stark symbolism of a snow-blown road past "...empty fields, shivery trees...", the first portion of the book is a moving and respectful testament to this tangible way of acknowledging the sacrifices of armed forces families. The end sheets that depict silhouettes of a soldier in action against the obscurity of the battlefield (front), and three saluting military personnel against a sunset backdrop (back) frame the account of this uniquely Canadian tribute.
The second half of the book offers 'The Story of the Highway,' explaining how the spontaneous gatherings of hundreds along the route began in 2002. Readers will learn how the road came to bear the name Highway of Heroes, who travels the road, why they have given their lives in a far-off land. Quotes are included from those who share why they've come to the vigil, and from soldiers' family members expressing how the display of support is appreciated. The author has briefly described the objectives of the war in Afghanistan, with examples of Canadian accomplishments that can mean a better future for the country.
Highway of Heroes includes a Foreword from General Walter Natynczyk, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, and a Dedication by former Governor General Michaelle Jean. A share of proceeds from book sales support a charity to assist all Canadians returning from war zones, as well as UNICEF. The publisher has created a website with additional materials including videos and teacher guide.
The highly charged emotional nature of this topic makes it challenging to present in a sensitive and effective way. The choice of two approaches in this book - a personal perspective, and a more objective, factual one - help to balance the grief and loss that underlies the topic. It works. For young readers, the book will answer many questions about the patriotic scenes they are witnessing in the media. It will also help them understand the immediacy and impact of the current war. These well chosen words and images bring it so much closer than the historical view of Canadian combat involvement that is all recent generations have known since the Korean War.
Highway of Heroes should be included in Canadian library collections to encourage discussion, particularly in the season of Remembrance.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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