Friday, June 10, 2011

Civil War Sesquicentennial Book Review: Escape by Night--A Civil War Adventure, by Laurie Myers (Henry Holt and Co., 2011)

Recommended for ages 7-10.

Release date:  June 7, 2011

This beginning chapter book provides an exciting Civil War story suitable for readers in second to fourth grade.  When a wagon full of wounded Confederate soldiers rolls into their Georgia town, Tommy notices a small notebook belonging to one of the soldiers falling out of the wagon, and sends his faithful greyhound dog Samson into the street to fetch it.  Tommy's father's the minister of the local Presbyterian church, which has been turned into a makeshift hospital, filled with "a heavy, over-towering smell of death."

Tommy's desire to return the notebook to its owner leads him to make a new friend among the wounded soldiers, Red.  Tommy realizes there's something different about Red, and it's not just that he treats Henry, a slave working in the hospital, with respect.  Tommy's determined to find out the truth about this soldier. Although he talks to Tommy and Henry, he won't talk to any of the white adults.  Could his strange accent mean that he's really a Yankee?

Although this book is written for early elementary school readers, the author weaves in many serious issues. Because of his discussions with Red, Tommy begins to question the morality of slavery, and the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and mercy.  Should he turn Red in, in which case he'll be sent to a horrible prison camp, or help him escape?  There's plenty of suspense, too, for young readers, and a happy ending appropriate for the age group.

The book includes a brief author's note, explaining that the book is based on the story of the young Woodrow Wilson, who as a boy was known as Tommy.  Although the story is fictional, the young Woodrow Wilson lived across the street from the First Presbyterian Church, where his father was pastor, and which became a hospital during the war.   Wilson's early life surrounded by the casualties of the Civil War made a profound impact on him, and this book helps us imagine those times.

Author Laurie Myers has published a variety of books for children, including Lewis and Clark and Me, which tells the story of Lewis and Clark's travels from the point of view of Lewis' dog, Seaman.  This is her second historical title.

Disclosure: ARC provided by publisher.

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