Close-Up On War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam by Mary Cronk Farrell

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Close-Up On War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam
Author: Mary Cronk Farrell
Published March 22, 2022 by Amulet

GoodReads Summary: The incredible story of Catherine Leroy, one of the few woman photographers during the Vietnam War, told by an award-winning journalist and children’s author.

From award-winning journalist and children’s book author Mary Cronk Farrell comes the inspiring and fascinating story of the woman who gave a human face to the Vietnam War. Close-Up on War tells the story of French-born Catherine Leroy, one of the war’s few woman photographers, who documented some of the fiercest fighting in the 20-year conflict. Although she had no formal photographic training and had never traveled more than a few hundred miles from Paris before, Leroy left home at age 21 to travel to Vietnam and document the faces of war. Despite being told that women didn’t belong in a “man’s world,” she was cool under fire, gravitated toward the thickest battles, went along on the soldiers’ slogs through the heat and mud of the jungle, crawled through rice paddies, and became the only official photojournalist to parachute into combat with American soldiers. Leroy took striking photos that gave America no choice but to look at the realities of war—showing what it did to people on both sides—from wounded soldiers to civilian casualties.

Later, Leroy was gravely wounded from shrapnel, but that didn’t keep her down more than a month. When captured by the North Vietnamese in 1968, she talked herself free after photographing her captors, scoring a cover story in Life magazine. A recipient of the George Polk Award, one of the most prestigious awards in journalism, Leroy was one of the most well-known photographers in the world during her time, and her legacy of bravery and compassion endures today.

Farrell interviewed people who knew Leroy, as well as military personnel and other journalists who covered the war. In addition to a preface by Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War photographer Nick Ut and a foreword by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Peter Arnett, the book includes an author’s note, endnotes, bibliography, timeline, and index.

Review: Before I read this book, I didn’t know anything about Catherine Leroy. This book not only taught me about this strong woman, but it taught me about Vietnam. After finishing this book, I felt like I had a better awareness of the world (but particularly of Vietnam and the United States. At the age of 21, French photojournalist Catherine Leroy decided she wanted to document the Vietnam War. Camera in hand, she went after her goals and didn’t take no for an answer. It is very clear that the author is a journalist, and she presents Leroy’s story in a way that is very engaging and well-written. This book made me want to be a better human, and I recommend it highly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be an excellent book to use in a history classroom (as well as English classrooms!). It would work really well in a book clubs unit related to Vietnam, heroines, and photojournalism. The photographs alone make this book a stellar addition to classrooms, and the writing is magnificent.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What resistance did Catherine face? How did she react?
  • How does the author integrate photographs to tell us about Catherine Leroy’s work?
  • Which photographs were particularly powerful for you, and why?
  • What are key moments in Catherine’s life that tell you more about who she is as a person?
  • What did you learn about Vietnam? About the United States?

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Read This If You Love: Photography, Nonfiction, Books about War, Books about Strong Women

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**Thank you to Mary at Abrams for providing a copy for review!**

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