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Fallen Angels

Walter Dean Myers

Theme: Coming of Age During the Vietnam War
Grades: Grades 9-11

In this award-winning novel, Myers presents the myriad experiences of a group of men who come of age during the Vietnam War. Richie Perry, the novel's protagonist and narrator, enlists in the army mainly to escape his problems—an alcoholic mother, a lack of opportunity in Harlem, and uncertainty about his future. He finds himself in the middle of a war that is more confusing and traumatic than the life he fled. Eventually, after being wounded in action, Perry and his friend Peewee Gates return to "the World."

Note: Fallen Angels depicts events that some readers may find disturbing and includes language that some may find objectionable. You may want to preview the novel before assigning it to students.

  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: The Vietnam War.
    Ask students to work together as a class or in small groups to share what they know about the Vietnam War. Encourage students to think about stories they may have heard from family members who remember the Vietnam War, as well as documentaries and movies they have seen. Record facts and impressions on the board.
  1. Staying Alive.
    Have students write about how they think they might react in a life-or-death situation, such as a war or a natural disaster. Encourage them to explore possible reactions. For example, would they panic or freeze? take foolish risks? show grace under pressure? sacrifice their lives to save others?
  1. Dateline: Those Turbulent 60s.
    To broaden students' understanding of the political, social, and cultural climate of the 1960s, have them work in small groups to create time lines highlighting important issues and events of this decade. Possible topics include the civil rights movement, the protest movement, the feminist revolution, trends in popular music, historic moments in space flight, sports highlights, best-selling books, and so on. Display their time lines on a bulletin board.

  1. Eyewitness to History.
    Have the class invite a representative of a local Vietnam Veterans' organization to talk to the class about problems that soldiers faced both in Vietnam and in the United States upon their return. Students should prepare interview questions to pose to the guest speaker.
  1. Vietnam In-Depth.
    Instruct students to write a research report on a topic inspired by the novel or related to the Vietnam War. Examples include the domino theory, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Paris peace talks, the Tet Offensive, the antiwar movement, the postwar problems of Vietnam veterans, Vietnamese refugees, and so on. Encourage students to use their history textbooks, the Internet, and library resources.

  2. War Memorials.
    In this project, groups of students research a great war memorial of their choosing and design a scale model or replica of the memorial. Memorials are then presented to the class, accompanied by an oral report that explains the history of, inspiration for, and architecture of the memorial.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Help students brainstorm a list of the great war memorials. Possibilities include the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War Veteran's Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Holocaust Memorials, etc. Encourage students to use the Internet, history textbooks, and the library to seek out other ideas.
  • Divide students into small groups to research and plan their models and reports. After they have conducted their research, suggest they begin constructing their models by drawing a rough sketch. Have groups think about the construction materials they might use, inscriptions they might include, and other relevant details. If possible, provide students with supplies they will need, such as paint, clay, cloth, posters, and so on.
  • Have each group "unveil" their monument and present their report to the class.