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

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
by Jeff Gottesfeld; illus. by Matt Tavares
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-5362-0148-2    $17.99

“In life we were our mothers’ sons. / In death we are faded photos on the mantel, / empty chairs at Thanksgiving, / prayers in the dark before dawn. / We are known but to God.” The remains of unidentified soldiers from World Wars I and II and the Korean War are interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, representing the “countless unknowns” buried in other cemeteries in the United States and around the world. Gottesfeld’s poetic text is in the voice of the first Unknown Soldier, borne by a horse-drawn wagon to Arlington in 1921 and, after a twenty-one-gun salute, laid to rest on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour (the time the WWI armistice was signed in 1918). Tomb Guards, devoted to the “Sentinel’s Creed” (the text of which opens the volume), guard the tomb around the clock every day. Published to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this book is a gorgeous and reverent tribute both to veterans and to the Tomb Guards. Tavares’s illustrations, rendered in pencil and painted digitally, variously show battle scenes, views of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and portraits of the Tomb Guards at work. A brief afterword adds more information.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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