Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Candlewick. Mar. 2021. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536201482.
Gr 3-5–This title is a tribute to the nameless fallen soldiers and the sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The poetic prose uses the collective first person to describe the deceased’s imagined appreciation for the sentinels. The narrative begins with “The Sentinel’s Creed,” and concludes with a factual afterword. The main text provides a history and reverence for the dedication and exactitude of the guards who pace in precise intervals, every hour of every day. The somber and inclusive illustrations are drawn in pencil and painted digitally. The people who guard the tomb are depicted as strong, stoic men and women. Soldiers and family members include Black characters. Readers see the gleam of their highly polished shoes, the reflection in their mirrored sunglasses, and their perfectly pressed uniforms flecked in snow. The crowds visiting the tomb vary in age and race; one is shown with a head covering, one wears a yarmulke, one has a prosthetic leg, and one uses a wheelchair. The occasionally awkward first-person viewpoint combined with some difficult vocabulary may make it difficult for the youngest readers.
VERDICT This book’s message of selflessness is as clear as the click of the metal-studded heels of sentinels walking their appointed steps.

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