twenty-one steps

Twenty-One Steps Children’s Book Review

This is a children’s book review of Twenty-One Steps by Jeff Gottesfeld.

Keeping vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, are the sentinel guards, whose every step, every turn, honors and remembers America’s fallen. They protect fellow soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, making sure they are never alone. 

To stand there—with absolute precision, in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, one in a line uninterrupted since midnight July 2, 1937—is the ultimate privilege and the most difficult post to earn in the army. Everything these men and women do is in service to the Unknowns. Their standard is perfection.

Exactly how the unnamed men came to be entombed at Arlington, and exactly how their fellow soldiers have come to keep vigil over them, is a sobering and powerful tale, told by Jeff Gottesfeld and luminously illustrated by Matt Tavares—a tale that honors the soldiers who honor the fallen.

Have you heard of The Sentinel’s Creed? What about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Understanding the sacrifice of our military men and women is crucial to appreciating our life in the US, but too often society fails to dedicate the time and energy. Twenty-One Steps, by Jeff Gottesfeld, is a stirring reminder of those who gave their lives so we can be free, particularly those who were lost on the battlefield.

The book explains the origins of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and tells the story as narrated by a soldier who lies buried there. Through the compassionate portrayal, readers will understand why it was so important to have a place and a time to honor loved ones who were lost on the battlefield and never recovered. Closure is so important to all families, especially those who never got to hold a funeral.

The book explains that even with a special tomb dedicated to the unknown soldiers, people still started to forget their sacrifice. To keep the burial site sacred, and so that the unknown soldiers were never alone, the Tomb Guards were formed. These men and women march twenty-one steps forward and backward in front of the monument, day and night, with no break. Their mission is to honor those who fell without acknowledgment, and the families that never got the chance to grieve properly.

The illustrations are stunning; the use of light and shadow throughout the scenes really deepens the emotions expressed in the words. It’s a beautiful book. Though it may not be appropriate for very young readers, it’s a great way to introduce children to the noble sacrifice made on behalf of all of us. 

Military life is challenging in many ways, but it’s an amazing calling. I’m honored to share this story with you since a huge part of my mission is supporting families with members of the armed forces.

Where Can I Find "Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?"

You can find Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by Jeff Gottesfeld on Amazon.

About the Author, Jeff Gottesfeld

twenty-one steps“It was Memorial Day, 2016 when I was walking in the National Cemetery here in Los Angeles and got the idea for TWENTY-ONE STEPS (March 2, 2021, Candlewick). With breathtaking art by Matt Tavares, the book tells the sobering and poignant story of the origin of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, those who gave everything to their nation including their names and identities, and the Tomb Guards whose standard is perfection, and who walk the mat and keep watch every minute of every day, for them, and for us. 

Publication was held until the centenary year of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in which the first Unknown was interred on November 11, 1921. Known but to God, may they rest in peace, and may our honor and respect never waver.

That the book will be published within 12 months of NO STEPS BEHIND (Creston, 2020) has made this a big if somewhat bittersweet year for me, as it has been for so many of us. I am thrilled by its critical reception, and hope that its subject, the late great Beate Sirota Gordon, becomes as honored now in her adopted United States as she still a heroine in Japan. And Shiella Witanto’s artwork is just stunning. Blessed to have won the Freeman Award and be a National Jewish Book Award finalist with it.

In the rest of my life, home is Los Angeles, California, but I’ve lived the itinerant life of the writer. There was school in New Jersey, Maine, Arizona, and San Francisco, and good stretches in Paris, Salt Lake City and Nashville, while my family center-of-gravity is still in New York City. When I’m not writing and there’s no pandemic, you’ll find me on the tennis court, ski slopes, Peleton, golf course, or knee-deep in a river with a fishing rod in my hands. Or in some kind of study. I like to learn. I read everything.”

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All in all, my family and I have really enjoyed this book and we know you will too! Please feel free to leave me any comments or questions about this review. I look forward to hearing from you! 

* This book was kindly sent to me by Author, Jeff Gottesfeld in exchange for an honest review. 

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