Monday, March 3, 2008

Shooting the Moon
By Frances O'Roark Dowell
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Twelve-year-old Jamie Dexter and her 17-year-old brother T.J. live and breathe army life. Taught that the army way is the best way by their father, the Colonel, they grow up playing endless war games with their toy soldiers, planning elaborate mock battles. 'The army way is the right way', says the Colonel and Jamie and T.J. answer with a ready hooah. So it seems only natural that when T.J. turns 18, he enlists in the army, ready to serve his time in Vietnam. Jamie is as proud of her brother as she can be and she can't wait for his letters telling her all about the war and combat. But it's the reaction of the Colonel that confuses the two. He seems less than excited about T.J.'s enlistment and tries to convince him to postpone army life for college life. T.J. won't hear of it and leaves for Vietnam sure that this will be the noble role he's dreamed of.

To pass the time, Jamie helps out at the rec center, cleaning and playing cards with Private Hollister. When T.J.'s first letter arrives, Jamie tears into it only to find that T.J. has not send her a letter but a roll of film with a short note asking her to develop it herself. Jamie is puzzled; where is the description of battle she was convinced he'd send? She's further puzzled by the pictures she develops - most of them are of the moon in various stages. But among those pictures are some that are more graphic - a wounded soldier, bloody bandages on his chest, being carried to a medical helicopter; a soldier staring off in the distance, the stump of his leg obvious. These photos shock Jamie - is this what T.J. is seeing every day? Where are the medals, the glory? How can this army life be so different from what they had grown up believing? When Private Hollister announces that he will soon be sent overseas, Jamie realizes that this is her opportunity to put into action the message she understands T.J. is sending about war.

'Shooting the Moon' is a thoughtful and timely story of war that is especially good to read as we continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it doesn't make army life grand and glorious, it also doesn't bash it. Instead, it offers readers a chance to consider for themselves what courage is and how worthy war, any war, is for those fighting and those at home.

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