Remembrance Day Books: For children, youth and you

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. – by John McCrae, 1915


A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson


In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield


On Juno Beach: Canada’s D Day Heroes by Hugh Brewster


The Kids Book of Canada at War by Elizabeth MacLeod


Hanna’s Suitcase – Karen Levine

For older children:


The Bite of the Mango – by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland


Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

For more suggestions visit The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, a wonderful resource!

For You:

Some of my favourite war stories told by some of my favourite Canadian authors.


Far To Go by Alison Pick


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje


Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels


Hanna’s Diary by Hanna Spencer


Day of the Dead Celebrations, or Remembering

051Following the hubbub of Hallowe’en, my son’s class celebrated the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday during which families and friends convene to remember loved ones who have died.  With the help of their parents, the kindergarten children were asked to think of someone they would like to honour, draw a picture or bring a photo of them, and bring into classroom a memento that could be placed on a memorial table.

We participated in this school activity with my other son last year, and as before, I was surprised to hear my sons’ responses and realize how aware they are of the deaths that affect our family.  I recently lost an elderly aunt, who has always been like a grandmother to me.  She lived in California, so we were removed from the ceremonies of death, and even though I talked about her and her passing to the boys, it wasn’t a central feature of our conversations.  But she was the person my son chose to remember, and as a memento, we brought along the socks that she knit for him the last time I saw her.   (He also thought about our neighbour’s cat, who used to spend a lot of time in our backyard, but who we hadn’t seen for several months, and I had wondered aloud that perhaps she had died as she was quite old.  Again, quite amazing what takes hold in the children’s minds when their parents aren’t even sure they are listening.)

The events at school were two-fold.  First the kindergarten children were paired with children in an older grade, and together they went into the ecology garden in the school field.  There they planted bulbs in honour of the departed, and were encouraged to talk about them while they worked.

We then went convened indoors around the memorial table, from which hung the children’s photos and drawings, and which housed the objects the children brought with them from home.  The children were invited to talk about their loved ones and their mementos.  The children chatted and told us what they knew.  They were not distraught (a child who has lost someone very close could be – I think a child in that situation would need more support and the school would be sensitive to that).  Death, and love that often surrounds it, was discussed as the facts of life that they are, from the perspective of the kids.  I wasn’t the only parent with tears in my eyes.

I often feel like our culture glorifies youth and fights stridently for life, and needs more rituals by which we can accept death and say goodbye when the time rightly comes.  I wish there were annual ceremonies for adults too, so we too could honour, express love, and remember.  This is the precise role of our upcoming Remembrance Day; to have personal remembrance days could be just as important.  The efforts at commemoration at the boys’ school may just pave the way for similar commemoration efforts in their home.  Maybe next year.

Guest Post for Remembrance Day by Sarah Hill

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For Remembrance Day, we’ve invited Sarah Hill to write about being a military mother.  For many Canadians, images of soldiers at war and families left behind on the homefront is brought to us by way of the television – and usually American television at that.  This Remembrance Day, we have asked Sarah what it’s like to be part of a Canadian military family.  Sarah’s husband flies helicopters for the Canadian military and is often away for extended periods of time. 


The quintessential military mom—children flanking her sides as she waves a Canadian flag standing stoically as her uniformed loved one departs to a far off dangerous place. It seems like a scene from a TV special or a news clip. Yet this is a reality for many families in Canada.

To be completely honest, until I was asked to write a guest post for the “4 Moms” I’d never really given much thought to the fact that I am a military mom but, as my dear friend pointed out, our family life is not run-of the mill. We have deployments and relocations, protocols and echelons. The Canadian Forces are so vast and diverse in their services it really is hard to capture the ‘typical’ military family experience, but I’ll attempt to offer a little insight.

Yes, my husband does leave for extended periods of time and we do have to move more often than most and not just down the street or the other side of the city. It will be from one coast to the other for us. As unsettling as the whole experience is, with the waiting and wondering—when and where we will be posted– I’ve learned perspective is everything. You make the most of what you have, learn to love where you are, build in strong supports and work hard nurturing our relationships. Many military moms can speak to part-time single parenting. I have much respect and admiration for those that do it full time.

How do you do it? I am often asked. In short, you just do. The Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) offers fantastic support services and education around the deployment cycle, some of which I’d like to share, because if you have a partner that travels I know you will be able to relate.

The Deployment Cycle

  • PreDeployment—often characterized by an anticipation of loss, denial, mental/physical distancing and an increase in arguments.
  • Deployment—a mixed emotion: relief “yes he’s finally gone the lead up is over, but now I really miss him”, overwhelmed, numb, sad, alone, which quickly moves into new routines and calling in supports, then comes anticipation, excitement, “daddy’s coming home!”
  • Post Deployment—the honeymoon, the need for your “own” space and the renegotiation of routines and reintegration into family life.

Some of my favourite tips from the MFRC:

  • give your children secret diaries where they can write down the things they wish their absent parent could hear
  • Take pictures (or video) of the parent doing ordinary things at home, which are very good for young children with short visual memories. Post them where they can be seen frequently. We posted a picture of daddy brushing his teeth on the bathroom mirror so every night we could brush teeth with Dad.
  • Talk about what you think the missing parent is doing right now and give an extra kiss from “Daddy” or “Mommy” – whoever is away.
  • If you know how long the separation is going to be, start a countdown. A friend of mine used a tower of blocks with her young child and everyday they’d take a block off.
  • Keep the absent parent with you. Put some books on tape or video so the kids can still be read to. Hallmark has some great recordable books.
  • Homecoming can be wonderful and stressful. Things change in your partner’s absence, take it slow. Talk. Be patient.
  • Adults and kids need to take time to get to know each other again. Do things as a family and as a couple.

My husband gets paid to do something he loves—fly helicopters. He has stable employment and benefits. He has now been to 5 continents, seen first hand the border between North and South Korea, a boat of refugees packed like sardines crossing the gulf of Aden in hopes of a better life, Somalian pirates, Pearl Harbour, parts of this country that few ever get the chance to experience and we get to live vicariously through his adventures. Family day at Daddy’s work involves going for a Sea King helicopter ride, and sitting in the cockpit exploring the endless switches and buttons. Every time a helicopter flies overhead we wave ‘at daddy.’

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that at times we envy a life where our children would be at the same school, with the same friends, and there would never be a missed birthday, graduation, lost tooth, or Christmas concert. But I am proud of what my husband does and our role in keeping Canada glorious and free. Military families are the strength behind the uniform. So in honour of those that have sacrificed so much for our freedom, do not forget to thank the wives and mothers this Remembrance Day. Lest We Forget.


Sarah is the mother of a 4 and 2 year old, married to an Airforce Pilot, and currently based out of Victoria, B.C.

4 Mothers Remember

Photo credit:  foxypar4

1mother:  Marcelle Cerny

“Mommy, when I’m 18, will I have to go to war?”

The boys are learning about Remembrance Day at school.  Reciting “In Flanders Fields”.  Daniel will be taking part in the school assembly, reading a passage about how the war ended at 6am Washington time.

But Sebastian’s not thinking about that.  He’s snuggled up to me, head pressed against my chest, looking through long eyelashes for my answer.

I think of the thousands of boys who once snuggled up to their own mothers this way.  Little boys, who played at war and who tested their courage in little ways.  Who grew up to believe it to be their duty to defend their country, to show valour, and honour.

I sigh.  I cannot lie.  I cannot tell the future.  But I can pray.

“I hope not, honey.  I hope you and your brother and no other boy or girl ever has to go to war again”.

He nods.  “Did Daddy have to go to war when he was 18?”

“No sweetie pie.  That’s why we remember those who fought in war, who fought for our freedom, so that your Daddy, and you, and your brother might never ever have to go to war.  We need to remember, and we need to say thank you”.

His mouth twists slightly, in thought, and then, “When did the first war start?”

I struggle.  Cain and Abel?  Do I reach back to the Bible?  Does he mean the first in recorded history?  I’m overthinking this.

He comes up with his own answer:  “I think the first war started when the first two people stopped talking to one another”.

2mother: Carol Chandran

Last week I heard of the distribution of white poppies by peace groups, to the distress of veterans.  I love to love peace groups, as I think the true potential of non-violent resolution of disputes is grossly underrated, not just for war, but for all interpersonal conflicts, including the ones that arise in parenting.  But when I read the newsclip on white poppies, my heart sank and I had just one simple thought:  “No, don’t do that.”

I suspect it’s significant that perhaps the only poem I can still recite from memory in full is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields“.  Maybe the white poppy distributors are motivated to push their symbol because of the haunting call to arms that concludes the poem.  I find more moving the middle verse:

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

There is a time for everything, including a certain humility and forebearance in the face of pain, the likes of which most of us blessedly know nothing about.  November 11 is not a time for a white poppy; the poppies of remembrance are red.  As my brother-in-law asked, “Will they protest at funerals, too?”

3mother:  Nathalie Foy

I remember the art that makes us remember.  When people make statements about art being superfluous, about its not being an essential part of our social life and our government spending, I think of passages of fiction and of the sculpting of monuments like these, lest we forget the labour that goes into remembering.

This is a passage from Jane Urquhart’s The Stone Carvers, a novel about Walter Allward’s memorial at Vimy Ridge.  It is a book I recommend highly.  She captures Allward’s passion and mania for his task so wonderfully.

Allward had watched the citizens of the provincial capital of Toronto stroll or hurry past his Queen’s Park sculptures of colonial founding fathers without a glance; in fact, he had not once seen a passerby pause to examine the bronze faces of these men who had so successfully imposed Europe’s questionable order on what had been their personal definition of chaos.  After the brief ceremonies of installation, these statues in frock coats had become as easy to ignore as trees, fire hydrants, or lampposts.  This would not—could not—happen with the memorial.  It would be so monumental that, forty miles away, far across the Douai Plain, people would be moved by it, large enough that strong winds would be put off course by it, and perfect enough that it would seem to have been built by a vanished race of brilliant giants. …  The names of the eleven thousand missing men were being collected and the complicated mathematics necessary to fit these names into the space available on the base was being undertaken.  The most recent set of figures had suggested that it would likely take four stone carvers two years to chisel the hundreds of thousands of characters into the stone.  Lines, circles, and curves corresponding to a cherished, remembered sound called over fields at summer dusk from a back porch door, shouted perhaps in anger or whispered in passion, or in prayer, in the winter dark.  All that remained of torn faces, crushed bone, scattered limbs. (268…274)

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