Teacher's Guide: Soldier's Heart


The Reality of War

"War is always, in all ways, appalling."--from Soldier's Heart

Good fiction can convey the reality of war along with the emotional impact that can change attitudes. A unit on the Images of War can help young people to understand the devastation war has wrought in the past and the necessity of preventing nuclear war in the future.

For this guide, we have chosen outstanding novels that present vivid images of war: Gary Paulsen's powerful evocation of Civil War battle, Soldier's Heart, which forms an intriguing parallel and contrast to Stephen Crane's classic The Red Badge of Courage, Graham Salisbury's Under the Blood-Red Sun, which shows the impact of war on the lives of innocent civilians, and The Last Mission by Harry Mazer.

In this guide, you will find suggested discussion topics and activities, an extensive reading list, and Internet resources to help make a unit on the Images of War a rich learning experience for your students.

Soldier's Heart
Gary Paulsen

"If it were left up to the men who did the killing and dying there would be no war." --from Soldier's Heart

Soldier's Heart is the gripping, heartwrenching story of war as seen through the eyes of Charley Goddard, a 16-year-old who enlisted in the First Minnesota Volunteers in June 1861 and fought in almost every major battle in the Civil War.

The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane

"It would be impossible for him to escape from the regiment. It enclosed him.... He was in a moving box." --from The Red Badge of Courage

This is the classic story of a young soldier's first two days in battle during the Civil War.

Under the Blood-Red Sun
Graham Salisbury

"The reason at the bottom of all the wars in the history of human life--is power. It's like a drug. Some men can't get enough of it." --from Under the Blood-Red Sun

After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, it is the friendship and loyalty of eighth-grader Tomi Nakaji's baseball buddies that help him through this terrifying time.

The Last Mission
Harry Mazer

"Because war is crazy. People don't matter the way I thought. It's not men fighting each other. It's all machines and bombs and what your luck is. You just try to stay out of the way, just try not to get killed."--Jack Raab in The Last Mission

Fifteen-year-old Jack Raab is eager to fight Hitler when he enlists in the Air Corps during World War II, but seeing his best friend killed when their plane is shot down makes him wonder if there is any meaning to all the deaths.


Classroom Connections

Innocence and Experience --How does Charley's lack of experience contribute to his desire to go to war? At what point in the story does he lose his innocence? Do you think he would have enlisted if he had known what war was like? Later he feels old in comparison to the new recruit Nelson. Why is Charley unable to teach
Nelson what he knows?

Courage--There are several places in the story where Charley wants to leave. Is it bravery that makes him continue to face battle, or something else? Find passages to support your answer.
Friendship--Charley thinks "when a man went down he was alone, even if he was your brother." Why does Charley choose not to have friends on the battlefield?

Science (Health)--Charley tells us that "four men died of dysentery and disease for every man that died of battle wounds." Research the symptoms and causes of typhus and dysentery. How are they spread? What conditions in a Civil War army camp led to these and other diseases? The trenches of World War I? Particular illnesses in the Vietnam War?

History--Use reference books at the library to research Charley's kindly general, George McClellan. Read the history of the battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg and compare with Charley's account.

Math--Create a graph with three bars comparing the number of Union soldiers and the number of Confederates killed in battle in the Civil War, and also the number who died of disease. What percentage of the general population at the time do these numbers represent? Leave room on your chart for adding more statistics later.

Fear--Paulsen makes Charley's fear vivid to us by describing it in terms of his bodily sensations. Think of a time when you were very afraid and write a paragraph about how it felt.

Classroom Connections

--Near the end of the book, Henry Fleming and his friend save a flag from a dying standard bearer and carry it in the battle. He regards the flag as "a goddess," and from this point on he is swept forward by patriotic fervor. What causes this sudden reversal? Can you find evidence that it is rooted in anything that has gone before in his thoughts?

Fear --Henry's great fear makes him constantly change his attitudes and feelings toward himself and his part in the war. Find passages that portray him in two different moods and write a short letter from Henry to his mother from each point of view.

Effects of War --Crane and Paulsen reach very different conclusions about the effects of war on a young mind. Reread the endings of both books and compare the mental conditions of Henry and Charley. Which do the students find more convincing?

-- In both Soldier's Heart and The Red Badge of Courage, there are several scenes in which the lead characters abandon themselves to feral rage--"rabid, insane joy. . .the joy of killing to live," as Paulsen says. This is a common happening in battle and in movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Have you ever seen anyone come close to this kind of frenzy? Research the role of the "berserker" in the Viking Norse culture of the Middle Ages and compare.

Women's Studies --What part do mothers and sweethearts play in forming the attitudes of men toward war in these novels? Find a summary of the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes and share this not-entirely-serious idea from the ancient Greeks about a way women could demand an end to war.

Math--On your graph of Civil War casualties, add the number of Americans who died in the Revolutionary War and in World War I to the numbers from the Civil War. Compare the three sets of statistics.

Classroom Connections

History--During World War II, Japanese Americans were also treated badly in the western United States and in Canada, where they were confined in camps in the desert or mountains. Find some accounts of this internment and compare it with what happened to Tomi's family.

Patriotism --What does the Japanese flag represent to Grampa? What does it mean to the neighbors and the police?

Prejudice--Find passages that show there was tension and separation between the haoles and Japanese even before the war. How do you think this distance contributes to the racial prejudice Billy experiences as the only haole on the streets of Kaka'ako? How does the friendship among the boys bridge this and other separation and suspicion?

Family Relationships--The intergenerational conflict in the Nakaji family is complicated by language and cultural differences, even though they love and respect each other. Today, too, young people and their parents sometimes have differing ideas. Compose a list of suggestions for resolving important conflicts.

Friendship--There are several close friendships in this book: Tomi and Billy, Grampa and Charlie, Keet and Jake, Tomi and Mose and Rico. In each case, what do the friends have in common that brings them together? What threatens the friendship and how is that threat overcome?

Math--On your graph of war casualties add bars for the number of American deaths from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Total all the deaths represented on the graph.

For students to comprehend the overall impact of the wars' casualties, have them imagine that all are buried in a single military cemetery, and compare the overall size (estimate that a grave is 3 feet wide by 7 feet long) to something accessible, e.g., the size of a country or a portion of the United States. Prompt a discussion of this comparison. It will help them grasp the enormity of war's toll.

Classroom Connections

Friendship -- Jack feels a close bond with the other men of The Godfathers crew because they share danger together. Have you ever been part of such a group: a sports team, for example, or the cast of a play? Write an essay describing the people in the group and how you felt about them.

Heroes -- Write your own definition of a hero. Why does Jack turn down the chance to be called one by his older brother? Do you think he was a hero or not?

Social Studies/The Holocaust -- Research the genocide of the Jews by Nazi Germany. Write a report on the Dachau, Buchenwald, or another concentration camps.

Music -- Mazer refers to several songs of World War II, both as chapter headings and in the story. Ask a grandparent or other adult to sing one of these songs so you can teach it to the class. What memories does this song bring back for them?

Language Arts -- Write a letter from Dotty to Jack, showing how little she understands about what he is enduring, in spite of her friendly intentions.


For Discussion

What are Charley's reasons for wanting to enlist? Compare these with the real causes of the Civil War that the class researched in the pre-reading exercise. What major issue in the Civil War is missing from his awareness?

In the early part of the book, Charley is confident that he is not going to be hit or killed. Later he comes to believe absolutely that he will die. At what point does the shift happen, and what causes it?

In the last chapter, Charley has returned to Winona after the war, but he is living alone in a shack by the river. Why do you suppose this is? What happens or is about to happen in the end? What clues does Paulsen give us?

What is the symbolism when Charley says he "felt his own age. . .not in years. . .but in meadows." What do "meadows" stand for? What two things does the Confederate revolver in the last chapter symbolize?

When Nelson is wounded in the stomach and faces a lingering death, he asks Charley to load his rifle for him and remove his shoe. Why? Does Charley understand what he plans to do, and is he then responsible for his death? What would you have done?

Stories of young men going off to war often begin the same way. Compare these elements in both The Red Badge of Courage and Soldier's Heart:

The "drums and songs and slogans" that stir up enthusiasm for war

The young soldier's reasons for wanting to go

The mother's farewell

The parades and pretty girls along the way to war

The boredom of drills and the pride in uniforms

The young soldier's reaction to first battle

One Step Beyond

Read aloud the poem "In Flanders Fields." A good place to find this poem is the book In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae, in which author Linda Granfield has interwoven the lines of the poem with fascinating information about World War I, details of daily life in the trenches, accounts of McCrae's experiences in his field hospital, and a description of the tragic circumstances that led to the writing of "In Flanders Fields."

Contrast this poem with "War Is Kind" by Stephen Crane. Help the class understand Crane's irony and ask them to discuss the differences and similarities in the attitudes toward war shown in the two poems.

Under the Blood-Red Sun

Pre-reading Activity

Research the general outlines of World War II as it was fought in the Pacific. What was the significance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Of Hiroshima?

For Discussion

War is not confined to the battlefield. Civilians, too, suffer during war, even if their country is not invaded, as we see by the disruption of Tomi's family in Under the Blood-Red Sun. Assign students to research and report on the London blitz; the Dresden firebombing; the napalming of villages in Vietnam; the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the siege of Stalingrad.

What is the meaning of the katana to Tomi's family? What kind of behavior will preserve honor, according to Grampa? To Tomi's father? To Tomi himself? How is the way Tomi acts in the final showdown with Keet true both to the traditional way and his own need for self-respect?

For Discussion

Compare Jack's reasons for enlisting with those of Charley Goddard and Henry Fleming. Which do you think is more valid? How does Jack feel about the war when he comes home? Would he be more likely to agree with Charley or Henry?

World War II has been called "The Good War" because it seemed that good and evil were so clearly defined in the two sides. Do you think there can be a just war? What kind of enemy actions would make you feel it was necessary to fight?

The Last Mission

Pre-reading Activity

Research the general outlines of World War II as it was fought in Europe. What did Hitler do that began the fighting? Which countries were the Axis and which the Allies? When did the United States enter the war? What was the pattern of movement of the armies across Europe? How was the air war important to the outcome?


Getting Started: Thinking About War

Have the class take the following opinion poll, noting whether they agree or disagree. There are no right or wrong answers. The only identifying marks on the students' papers should be an "M" or "F" to indicate the gender of the student, for tallying purposes.

1. War is crazy.
2. War is always bad.
3. War is fun and exciting.
4. War is sometimes necessary.
5. Big wars are bad but little wars are okay.
6. In a war there are "good guys" and "bad guys."
7. In a war everybody thinks his side is right.
8. I think it would be exciting to fight in a war.
9. I don't ever want to be in a war.

Tally the answers on three separate charts, for the class as a whole and for boys and girls separately. Discuss any patterns that emerge. Retain the chart until the end of this unit and use with the culminating activity below.

Pre-reading Activity

Form committees to research and report on several general aspects of the Civil War:

What were the economic causes?

Why did the South want to secede?

What were the major battles and their outcomes?

What was the effect of the war on the South? On the North?

Concluding Activity: Thinking About War...

At the culmination of the unit on the Images of War, have students retake the opinion poll from the Getting Started section of this guide. Compare the results with the first time the class answered these questions. Have their attitudes changed? Why?

Written by Patty Campbell, author of Presenting Robert Cormier and 1989 winner of the American Library Association's Grolier Award for distinguished service to young adults and libraries.


Awards for The Last Mission

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year

Awards for Soldier's Heart

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Quick Pick

Awards for Under The Blood-Red Sun

The Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An ALA Notable Book
A Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
The 1998 Hawaii Nene Award
A Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies


Reviews for The Last Mission

"The reader feels his shock and grief at losing his friends, suffers with him the doubts and apprehensions that being a Jewish prisoner inevitably raise, and, especially, experiences with him the bewildering mixture of relief and repugnance that comes with returning to civilian life."-- The New York Times Book Review

"Told in a rapid journalistic style. . .the story is a vivid and moving account of a boy's experiences during World War II as well as a skillful, convincing portrayal of his misgivings as a Jew on enemy soil and of his ability to size up--in mature, human fashion--the misery around him."-- The Horn Book

Praise for The Red Badge of Courage

" The Red Badge of Courage has long been considered the first great 'modern' novel of war by an American--the first novel of literary distinction to present war without heroics and this in a spirit of total irony and skepticism."--Alfred Kazin, from the Introduction

Reviews for Soldier's Heart

"The novel's spare, simple language and vivid visual images of brutality and death on the battlefield make it accessible and memorable to young people."-- Starred, Booklist

"Brilliant. . . . A searing antiwar story."-- Starred, Publishers Weekly

"[An] unflinching portrayal of . . . war. . . . Truly remarkable."--Pointer, Kirkus Reviews

Reviews for Under the Blood-Red Sun

* "Salisbury spares few details--the fear, the horror, the sounds, the smells all envelop the reader as they do the characters. . . . [An] action-packed novel."--Starred, Booklist

Educators Praise Soldier's Heart

"I felt I was on the battlefield experiencing everything that Charley was experiencing."--John H. Bushman, Director, The Writing Conference

"I read the book in one sitting. It's a powerful story."--Donald R. Gallo

"Soldier's Heart is powerful and descriptive and thought-provoking. I really appreciated the structure of the novel as well. Ending those crucial chapter with 'This was the first battle' or 'This was the second battle' really made a tremendous impact. There will be many good discussions about this book among young readers. . .It's so great that our best authors are tackling such tough and important subject."--Sylvia Vardell, University of Texas at Arlington

"It is really quite amazing that with such simplicity of style, Gary Paulsen can give us such an intense reading experience. One just feels he is there on the battle scene. . .and reacting to the carnage."--Ronald Jobe

" Soldier's Heart has made a great impression on me and my students. Like The Rifle, this book also strikes a blow against war and the glorified way we have treated it in much of our literature. Thank you for the wonderful book."--Marilyn Carpenter

"The images Paulsen creates of the horrors of war endured by Charley and their long time effects are overwhelming. I couldn't help reflecting and comparing Charley's idea of death as inevitable and how young adults in gangs today feel the same way."--Mary Long


Internet Resources

The American Revolution Project
Clear and well-written articles and projects on many aspects of the Revolutionary War by a seventh grade social studies class.

Index of Civil War Information Available on the Internet
A comprehensive compendium of links to all Civil War sites on the net. See especially "Outline of the Civil War."

The Civil War Project
Created by ninth grade students, this well-organized site on the Civil War includes essays on battles, generals, and other topics such as slavery, arts and music, medicine, women, and spies and traitors.

Trenches on the Web: An Internet History of the Great War
A friendly and easy-to-use Web site with a wealth of information on all aspects of World War I--time lines, statistics, trivia, posters, photos, and art, as well as solid history.

The History Place: World War Two in Europe

A detailed time line of World War II from 1918 to 1946 with links to short articles and photos on the many aspects of the causes, battles and campaigns, leaders, and consequences of this global conflict.

Korean War Project
A compendium of links to sites on the history of the Korean War.

The Vietnam War History Page
This project of Dr. Ron Nurse's "History of the Vietnam War" class at Virginia Tech University is a compilation of links to resources about the Vietnam conflict from all perspectives, including memoirs, articles, novels, movies, the sixties protest, Vietnamese in the U.S., and much more.



Related Titles

War is the theme of many books, from the classics to contemporary literature. Use these books to further enhance the classroom discussion of the images of war.

Dear Great American Writers School by Sherry Bunin
A girl's letters to the Great American Writers School capture the pleasure and pain of her life in a small Southern town during World War II.
Grades 4-8 (World War II Home Front, Writing)

Honor Bright by Randall Beth Platt
In the summer of 1944 a girl begins to learn the answers to some painful questions about the past that destroyed her family and left her mother and grandmother bitterly divided.
Grades 7 up (World War II Home Front)

In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield, illustrated by Janet Wilson
This gives the background for the writing of the poem and includes evocative paintings and reproductions of archival posters, postcards, and other artifacts.
Grades 3 up (Poetry)

Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
When 10-year-old Lily's father leaves to fight in World War II, she is furious at having to spend the summer alone with her grandmother in Rockaway, until she meets Albert, a young Hungarian refugee with troubles of his own.
A 1998 Newbery Honor Book
Grades 4-7 (World War II Home Front, Honesty, Friendship)

Wish Me Luck by James Heneghan
Jamie Monaghan wishes the war would hurry up and arrive in Liverpool. But when his parents arrange for him to be sent to safety in Canada, the ship carrying him brings him closer to battle than he or his parents ever would have dreamed possible.
Grades 7 up (World War II, Great Britain, Survival, Courage & Heroism)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Based on real events in World War II, this Newbery Award-winning book tells the story of the secret Danish evacuation of 7,000 Jews by flotilla to Sweden, as the family of 10-year-old Annemarie tries to save her best friend from the Nazis. A Newbery Medal Book
Grades 5-9 (World War II, Holocaust, Bravery)

Adem's Cross by Alice Mead
Adem, 14, and the other Albanians in Kosovo try to carry on normal lives under the brutal occupation by the Serbs, but when his sister is killed for reading a poem and his father is badly beaten, Adem knows he must find a way to escape over the mountains.
Grades 5 up (Yugoslav War, Albania, Genocide)

Basher Five-Two: The True Story of F-16 Fighter Pilot Captain Scott O'Grady
by Captain Scott O'Grady with Michael French
The amazing survival tale of an American air-force pilot who was shot down over Bosnia while helping to keep the peace. Includes photos.
Grades 5 up (Autobiography, Courage, Patriotism)

The Orphan Train Adventures by Joan Lowery Nixon

A Dangerous Promise
Mike Kelly, 13, talks his way into the Union Army to be a drummer.
Friendship -- Civil War -- Courage

Keeping Secrets
Peg Kelly and her brother Danny are determined to help the intriguing stranger carrying a secret message for the Union.
Family -- Civil War -- Espionage

Circle of Love
Frances Mary's sweetheart comes back from the Civil War too damaged to face marriage.
Civil War -- Love -- Responsibility

More Classics . . .

War Comes to Willy Freeman by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
Grades 3-7 (Revolutionary War)

With Every Drop of Blood by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
Grades 5 up (Civil War)

Other Bells for Us to Ring by Robert Cormier
All ages (World War II Home Front)

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Grades 5 up (Revolutionary War)

Morning Is a Long Time Coming by Bette Greene
Grades 7 up (World War II aftermath)

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Grades 7 up (World War homefront)

Farewell to Manzanar
by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston
Grades 7 up (World War II, Family, Prejudice, Japanese Internment Camps)

And One for All
by Theresa Nelson
Grades 6-8 (Vietnam War Protest)