Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Duane Smith, (Feb. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781643790169

Ages 7-11

I really like Lee and Low’s “The Story of…” series: for me, it’s easily a companion series to the more well-known “Who Was…?” series from Penguin Random House, and the subjects of the “Story of” books shine spotlights on people of color that we may not hear about as often. The biography of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann (The Midnight Teacher) and illustrated by Duane Smith (Seven Miles to Freedom), is a concise, thorough biography of Robert Smalls, an enslaved steamboat wheelman who saved his family and crew when he used the captain’s hat and cover of darkness to commandeer a Confederate ship and steer it directly to the Union – and freedom. Filled with illustrations and photos, readers get a great picture of Robert Smalls and his nighttime ride through Confederate waters, and his life afterward, including his further actions in the Civil War, where he took part in 17 battles, and his post-War life, when he founded the Republican Party i South Carolina and helped write the new democratic state constitution and a proposal on education, his activity in the state militia, where he attained the rank of major general, and his political life, winning seats in both the South Carolina house and senate. The book includes a timeline of of Smalls’s life and a glossary of terms, plus references and a list of further reading.

Treat yourself to this book, and this series, and treat yourself to more books about Robert Smalls, including Janet Halfmann and Duane Smith’s picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, also published by Lee & Low, and Be Free or Die, by Cate Linberry, is available for teens and adults. Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent article on Smalls.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Blacksmith’s Song: An entry into African-American folklore

Blacksmith’s Song, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk/Illustrated by Anna Rich, (Feb. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-580-5

Recommended for readers 6-10

An enslaved boy realizes that the rhythm of his blacksmith father’s “song” – the hammer striking the anvil as he works – changes when he sends word to other slaves that it’s time to escape. He waits for it to be his family’s turn, but when his father falls ill, he takes matters into his own hands: for himself, his family, and the slaves who rely on his father’s message.

Inspired by stories from the Underground Railroad, Blacksmith’s Song gives readers a new entry into African-American folklore: some may have heard of the quilts and the messages they provided; some may know that dances and songs like “Wade in the Water” provided coded messages; now, we have the rhythm of the smith’s hammer. Anna Rich paints stunning portraits in oils: the forge’s flame and sparks; the grim slave catchers riding out in search of escaped slaves; the watchful eyes of the boy and his family, and the warm glow of the firelight as the boy takes up his father’s hammer for the first time. A good addition to historical fiction picture book collections and to readers interested in American folktales, particularly surrounding the Civil War-era South.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

My Name is Not Friday is a younger generation’s Twelve Years a Slave

fridayMy Name is Not Friday, by Jon Walter (Jan. 2016, David Fickling Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545855228

Recommended for ages 12-18

Living in an orphanage in the South at the end of the Civil War, Samuel is always trying to keep his younger brother, Joshua, out of trouble. The latest prank to be laid at Joshua’s feet is a big one; Samuel takes the blame to keep his brother safe, and finds himself sold into slavery as a consequence. He’s stripped of his given name, renamed Friday, and threatened to keep his true origin – that he’s a freeborn black boy – a secret. Told in the first person through Samuel’s eyes, readers get an often brutal, heart-breaking account of slavery in the last days of the Civil War.

My Name is Not Friday is a powerful book, at times difficult to read. The characters aren’t always likable, and they’re not always loathsome – that’s part of the struggle. It’s easy to hate the mustache-twirling, top hat-wearing villain, but when it’s a child who struggles with wanting to do the right thing – even when he doesn’t really fully understand the right thing – it’s not as easy. Friday is a sympathetic character, and the frustration of his situation comes across so strongly, that I had to put the book down a few times.

An important addition to shelves, My Name is Not Friday has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Suggested for middle school and high school readers for overall content. Put this on your shelves next to Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave and Alex Haley’s Roots, which returns as a mini-series on History Channel at the end of May.

From SLJ: An author’s note references historical documents, including Harriet Jacobs’s classic Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Walking Home to Rosie Lee: A boy’s search for his mother, post-Civil War

rosie leeWalking Home to Rosie Lee, by A. LaFaye, illus. by Keith D. Shepherd (Sept. 2015, Cinco Puntos Press), $7.95, ISBN: 9781941026052

Recommended for ages 6-10

The Civil War is finally over. The slaves have been freed. Young Gabe is searching for his mother, Rosie, who was sold before the war’s end. Told in the first person through Gabe’s perspective, Walking Home to Rosie Lee chronicles Gabe’s search for his mother.

This is a 2-hankie book, everyone. I’ve got three sons, and reading Gabe’s earnest voice describing his mother’s appearance, his potential joy and disappointment, his fear, just struck me right in the heart. It’s a beautiful story about the love of a son for his mother, and a small story within the larger story of the struggle that freed slaves went through, post-Civil War, to find their families and start their lives. We learn about the Freedman’s Bureaus, where freed slaves could go to find pictures and news of their relatives, and the importance of word of mouth – and sheer luck.

Keith D. Shepherd’s artwork is beautiful, truly enhancing the story with striking images like young Gabe, sleeping next to a woman he discovered on the search for his mother. Gabe, the focus for the book, is striking, with his huge, loving eyes. You want this boy to find his mother, you want everyone on that trail, that search, to be reunited with their families. The artwork gives this story a deeper pathos than words alone can reach.

rosie lee_6

Walking Home to Rosie Lee is a beautiful story of love and reunion. Put this one on your shelves, parents and educators, and read it often. Talk about it often.

Walking Home to Rosie Lee was a Stepping Stones Honor book, a 2012 IRA Teachers Choice Selection, 2012 Bank Street School of Education Best Books of the Year Selection, and a Nominee for the 2012 Kentucky Bluegrass Award. It will be published through Cinco Puntos Press in September 2015. There is an educator’s guide on the author’s website.

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Middle School, Tween Reads

The Girls of Gettysburg is a powerful look at three different lives during the Civil War

girls of gettysburg The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller (2014, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0823431632

Recommended for ages 10-14

The Battle of Gettysburg has countless stories attached to it: the stories of those who fought and died there. The stories of the people who lived in Gettysburg when war came to town. The stories of everyone in the aftermath. Bobbi Miller gives us three incredible stories-based on real-life events and people-of three girls whose lives were forever changed by Gettysburg.

We have Annie, a 13 year-old girl who has already lost family to the Civil War. Frustrated with her mother’s expectations of what a “lady” should be, she runs away, cuts her hair, and takes up arms against the North. Grace Bryan, a 12-ish year-old girl from a free African American family, is the daughter of a farmer who refuses to flee, like so many other black families who fear capture and enslavement by the Rebels. Tillie, a 14 year-old girl who romanticizes the handsome and noble soldiers, discovers a very different side to war when the war comes to her town.

The first thing I loved about this book – and there are so many things I love about this book – is that the Battle of Gettysburg is truly the background, not a character. The girls’ stories stand on their own: strong, infused with feeling, and entirely individual. There is no right or wrong here – something the characters learn for themselves in the course of the book – only people struggling to survive, be it an escaped slave hoping to make it up North, or a young soldier marching into battle with a tintype and a letter to his mother in his pack.

The Girls of Gettysburg will be a great book for a unit on the Civil War, but even for a discussion of women on the battlefield in the present-day.

The author’s webpage offers more information about her books, and resources for educators and writers.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson (Scholastic Press, 2008)

Recommended for ages 12+

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is the story of the plot to kill President Abraham Lincoln, the assassination and ensuing manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators. Author James L. Swanson based this YA version on his previous book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (William Morrrow, 2006).

A lifelong Lincoln aficionado who shares the 16th President’s birthday, the author wanted to bring his story to a younger audience. He never dumbs down the narrative to reach this audience; rather, he makes it more accessible by featuring over 70 photos of artifacts, newspapers and photos taken from various archives; he summarizes trial manuscripts and interviews, and moves the events along at a pace that younger, less patient readers will enjoy and stick with.

Scholastic’s website offers free teaching resources to use with the book including an audio book excerpt, video interview with the author, and printable Wanted! poster for Booth.

Manhunt received an Edgar Award for the best true crime book of the year in 2007; Chasing Lincoln’s Killer has received recognition as a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Best Book for Young Adults. Mr. Swanson holds a seat on the advisory council of the Ford’s Theatre Society. He has collected books and artifacts on President Lincoln since he was 10 years old and has written a photographic history, Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

Book Review: I’ll Pass for Your Comrade, by Anita Silvey (Clarion, 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade is a line taken from a Civil War Ballad, “The Cruel War”; a woman is saying goodbye to her love, leaving to fight, and begs to join him in combat. She offers to “pass for his comrade” – something that, according to the National Archives, at least 250 women did during the Civil War. Many women fought to be with their husbands and fiances. Some women fought for revenge. Some women fought for the thrill of battle. Unfortunately, because they had to keep their stories silent, most of these stories have been lost. I’ll Pass for Your Comrade tells the stories of some of the women who donned men’s uniforms, cut their hair, and went to war.

We hear the words of the women who fought, like Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who wrote about her participation in the Battle of Bull Run as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. We see photographs of women like Frances Clayton, featured in the book both dressed in her uniform and her dress. We learn about their lives after the War, and how some of them took their secrets to the grave, their families only discovering their truth after death.

The book has black and white photographs and primary documents reprinted throughout, offering students the chance to see history as they read about these women. The author also provides a bibliography for further reading. This would be a strong selection to use during Women’s History Month or during a Civil War unit.