I am in awe of the soldiers and sailors who are back in Normandy today, 75 years later. I always bring patriotism into my class, and a certain page in a picture book that I read all the time helps me bring D-Day into the lives of preschoolers.
This is the cemetery in Normandy. D-Day. It is a page from Peter Spier’s book, The Star-Spangled Banner. I have been reading this well-loved book to children for decades. The words read, “Oh, thus be it ever when free men shall stand.”
Whenever I got to this page in the book I would talk about Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. Then I saw the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and I immediately recognized the scene in Normandy to be exactly this illustration. I nearly jumped out of my skin. After that I had a whole new understanding and respect for this page, this cemetery.
Here is what happens when I read this page:
I stop. I don’t say a word. Children need to look and take in the images.
“Jennie, is this a sad page?”
“Yes. It’s a sad page.”
“What are those white things?”
“They are crosses to mark the graves of the soldiers who died.”
“This is a cemetery. It’s in Normandy. Many brave young men died here. They were fighting for our freedom.”
More silence. I knew they were absorbing my words and the illustration. Their heads were spinning.
“Do you see the American flag? It is flying halfway down the flag pole. That’s called a flag flying at half mast. In a cemetery or a national place, flags are halfway down when it is sad. And Normandy is a sad place.”
We talked about the crosses, and the ones with stars. We pulled out our big map book and found Normandy. We imagined the trip there by boat.
I told children about the boats that landed, how they had a “tailgate” that dropped down so the soldiers could go ashore.
Most importantly, we talked about doing what is right, even if it is hard and you’re scared. Peter Spier understood this. His book of the song is a classic!