Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Written by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Matt Tavares
*Starred review in Kirkus
*Starred review in The Horn Book
*Starred review in Shelf Awareness
An ALA Notable Book
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2021
School Library Journal Best Books of 2021
Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2021
2021 Audrey Geisel Friend Of Military Children Award
A Junior Library Guild selection
Maryland Black-eyed Susan Book Award list
Colonial Dames of America 2022 Young Readers Award
The Society of Illustrators, "The Original Art 2021" exhibit
With every step, the Tomb Guards pay homage to America's fallen. Discover their story, and that of the unknown soldiers they honor, through resonant words and illustrations.
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.
"Tavares' magisterial art soars, awash in opposing forces: shadowed but luminous, soaked in both melancholy and reverence. The fallen who have died nameless deserve the very best. This is it. Impeccably honors its subject.
*Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Gottesfield'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)...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."
*The Horn Book (starred review)
"In this stunning, solemn and reverent picture book, Jeff Gottesfeld (No Steps Behind) and Matt Tavares (A Ben of All Trades) collaborate both to educate readers and honor those sentinels who proudly walk the mat day and night, good weather or foul, ensuring the Unknown Soldier is never alone. . . . Gottesfeld's text is a heartfelt thank-you letter delivered from one soldier to another. . . . A perfect introduction for young readers to a significant part of United States history, Twenty-One Steps is a serene education about and commendation of the exceptional men and women who proudly protect this symbol of U.S. freedom--and the high cost the nation pays for that freedom. A beautiful reminder and a fitting tribute."
*Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"This work of sobering beauty begins up close: 'I am an Unknown. I am one of many,' we read, seeing the portrait of a young man in a wooden frame. . . Patriotic and deeply moving, this picture book for children ages 7-10 will be hard for parents to read aloud without tears, but that is no reason not to try."
-The Wall Street Journal
"Sentinels keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery with precision and perfection, during all hours of the day and in any weather condition. Gottesfeld captures their deliberate dress, clicking heels, 21 steps, and 21 seconds of silence that show honor to the 'nameless and faceless' victims of war. . . . Masterfully illustrated by Matt Tavares, this sobering story is written from the perspective of the unknown soldier."
"[Gottesfeld's] book, while directed at children, touches a universal chord in these days when America seems so divided. In the end, perhaps that may be this book's greatest gift.
"A powerful picture book that brings the mystique of the role the sentinels have at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to a child's level, helping them understand the meaning of service and sacrifice to others."
-Gavin McIlvenna, president of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier