I'm not quite sure how to classify Pararescuemen in Action, by Michael Sandler. It's a nonfiction picture book, with both facts and lavish illustrations on every page. But the subject matter is somewhat mature, and I don't think that I would read it with preschoolers. I would, however, give it to reluctant boy readers in elementary school, and I would expect them to find it utterly compelling. I know I did.
Pararescuemen is part of Bearport Publishing's Special Ops series (other forces featured include Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and Marine Force Recon). The book begins with a helicopter's-eye view of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and describes pararescueman Keith Berry's experience dropping from a helicopter down to a flooded street to help people. This incident ends on a cliffhanger, returned to at the end of the book, and the text continues with a definition of pararescue jumpers (or PJs), and a trip through their training experience, called Superman School ("It is one of only a few Air Force jobs that not accept women."). The historical background of this elite air rescue team within the U.S. Air Force is given, and some of their key initiatives are described.
"Trained in medical, survival, and combat skills, PJs make rescues almost anywhere. They often parachute from planes or helicopters to get to survivors.
Many of their missions happen during war. If a plane goes down, the PJs search for stranded airmen. They tend to the wounded. They may even have to fight the enemy." (Page 6-7)
One brief chapter tells of a heroic pararescue jumped named Jason Cunningham, who helped care for injured soldiers in Afghanistan after a helicopter crash. The chapter concludes:
"During this mission, Jason saved the lives of ten other soldiers. Sadly, he was injured and then died. After his death, Jason was awarded the Air Force Cross, a medal given only to heroes." (Page 19)
Wow! This is in a picture book!? Don't get me wrong -- I think that kids will find this riveting. But that part of the book is very sad, and not for the faint of heart. There is, however, occasional humor, as in this paragraph:
"Another part of the Pipeline is survival school. A week in the wild teachers PJs to stay alive without supplies. No water? PJs collect dew that gathers each morning on their parachutes and then drink it. No food? PJs discover how tasty crunchy bugs can be!" (Page 16)
If that's not boy-friendly, I don't know what is. Like the other Bearport title that I reviewed last week (Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox), this book does a nice job providing an educational framework on top of an engrossing text. For example, whenever an incident in the book takes place in a foreign country, a small world map is displayed, with a red star highlighting that country. What a great way to work in a bit of geography. As another example, when a measurement is mentioned, the metric equivalent is included in parentheses. A glossary, bibliography, further reading list, and index are also included. The glossary particularly caught my eye, with its inclusion of words like Taliban, transfusion, and enemy lines. These vocabulary words are highlighted when they first appear in the text, too.
The illustrations are gripping. And the author's use of named individual PJs as examples makes the text more resonant and more accessible to kids. Overall, this is a thoughtful nonfiction title, assembled by author and publisher with care. I'm left with tremendous respect for these brave, hard-working pararescue jumpers, and the effort that they undertake to train for their service. I think that elementary school children, especially boys, will be impressed, too. This would make another excellent library selection.
Publisher: Bearport Publishing
Publication Date: January 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.