Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Children's book reviews

The other day while looking for books to use by Barnes and Noble gift card on I happened across some of their children's Civil War titles. Not knowing the quality of the work I instead checked out the books from my local library and have been reading them to my son this past week.

First up he picked the one about Lincoln (he loves Lincoln and John Brown). Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale by Deborah Hopkinson.

It tells the story of a young Abe crossing a creek with one of his friends. Abe falls in and is saved by his friend. Its an okay story but the narration is odd. The narrator talks to the reader and illustrator as if they are active participants in the story. For instance the narrator explains that we don't really know how Abe's friend saved him, maybe he used a big stick, maybe he was able to reach him with his arms, or maybe something else happened (and even says we don't know if the story is true or not to begin with). So the narrator asks the illustrator to pick one of the methods himself. My son enjoyed it which is my main goal for any bedtime reading. If the story is true or not doesn't matter much here, its not like this event really matters much to how Abe grows up, unless of course he had drowned.

Next we read Civil War Sub: The Mystery of the Hunley by Kate Boehm Jerome.
This was a very good book but probably too long for a six year old. We read it over three nights and it covers the entirety of the Hunley story from its invention to its modern place in a research museum. My impression is that the book came out soon after the sub was opened up for research. The finding of Lt. Dixon's gold coin is mentioned but not much of the findings since then. There was one error that leaped out to me, the Hunley was described as an altered boiler and I'm pretty sure they are now convinced that was not the case. But that is a relatively minor error for a six year old to overcome. He really liked the story and would make guesses about what would happen in the next night's reading.
Then we read From Slave to Soldier by Deborah Hopkinson.
Slave boy Johnny runs away from his master to join the Union army as a teamster. He quickly shows that he is a good teamster, earns the respect of his new comrades and ends the book by receiving his own blue uniform. I'm sure this story happened many times during the war. The book is pretty good, my son was interested the whole time. I think its important to give him a few different view points on the war so he has a fuller grasp of the war. I'm not going to ignore slavery when selecting his books but I also don't demonize the South. The Hunley book was a good one for the bravery of the Southern soldier.

We also read Billy and the Rebel by Deborah Hopkinson. Hopkinson turns out a ton of history themed children's books which have been pretty enjoyable.
Billy lives west of Gettysburg and during that battle has many different encounters with Confederate soldiers. One such encounter is a young boy who wants to desert from the Confederate army. This young Rebel changes into Billy's clothing and stays hidden well enough to avoid detection. This based on a true story, Billy Bayly really did help hid a Confederate deserter and he stayed in Gettysburg after the battle and eventually bought a farm there. The author says she was never able to locate the name of the soldier.
Our final book was Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson (and my least favorite of the books we read).
This one tells the story of a slave family escaping into the North and beyond. The reason I didn't like one as much was that it used the story of quilts on the Underground Railroad. My mother is a quilter and has read some books about the Underground Railroad quilts, and found out that it is all a myth. There is not one piece of real evidence that quilts were used as signals. Also I don't think this story connected with my son as much as he fidgeted more during this one. I think that was also due to the narrative style and not so much because of the topic.

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