Monday, February 21, 2011

Mix N' Match Monday: American Revolution

Today being President's Day, it seems appropriate to highlight some books that revolve around the founding of our country.  I have read a lot of books about the American Revolution, but none quite like the ones that I am highlighting today.  Generally speaking, most books about the American Revolution focus on the patriots, the white patriots.  But like all historical events the reality was much more complex.  These books help present that complexity.

Chains
Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008.
Grades 5 and up
Reviewed from personal copy

Isabel and her sister, Ruth, having lost both their mother and their owner, expect to be freed as their owner promised them they would be.  Unfortunately, Mr. Robert does not free them, instead he sells them to a British Loyalist and his demanding wife.  After arriving in New York, Isabel meets a slave boy by the name of Curzon, who encourages her to spy on her owners to help the patriot cause. Isabel does so believing that it will help her obtain her and her sister's freedom. But Ruth's ongoing health problems (seizures) cause Isabel great concern and result in Ruth being sent away.  Isabel, a very spirited girl, nearly attacks her mistress, and ends up being severely punished.  Isabel feeling betrayed by Curzon and the patriots maintains a submissive demeanor for a time, until she realizes that her only hope for ever seeing her sister again requires that she act.

Anderson does a great job of introducing the reader to characters that are both sympathetic and intriguing.  The ongoing conflict between Isabel and her mistress provide tension throughout the book.  The details presented about the time and place give a vivid picture of life for slaves at that time.  The tremendous irony of the patriots fighting for their freedom while supporting slavery gives a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking aspect to the story that will not be quickly forgotten.

Forge
Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
Grades 5 and up
Reviewed from personal copy

Forge, the follow-up to Chains, continues the adventures of Isabel and her friend Curzon.  Chains was told from Isabel's point of view, Forge is told from Curzon's point of view, which presents us with a different picture. After rescuing, Curzon from prison (he was a prisoner of war), Isabel becomes frustrated with Curzon's unwillingness to search for her sister and takes off on her own.  The story follows Curzon into the heart of the American Revolution.  Curzon ends up at Valley Forge, struggling to survive the brutal winter.  Unfortunately, Curzon is spotted by his 'owner'. Curzon considers himself free because his owner promised him freedom if Curzon would take his place in the American army. His owner, however, has no intention of keeping this promise and Curzon ends up serving as a slave once again.  To his shock, he discovers Isabel also serving Bellingham as a slave.  Determined to escape, Curzon tries to enlist Isabel in his plotting, but to his shock she refuses.  When he realizes why, Curzon becomes even more determined to find a way for them to become free.

Again, Anderson provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of both patriots and slaves.  She deftly integrates history into the story of Isabel and Curzon and gives the reader mixed emotions about the contradictions in American history.  The quotes at the beginning of each chapter do a nice job of foreshadowing the coming events.  The writing is clear and crisp and keeps the reader's focus on the story rather than the words used to tell it.

Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves Who Sided with the British During the American Revolution
Margaret Whitman Blair
National Geographic, 2010.
ISBN: 978-1-4263-0590-0

Reviewed from personal copy

Liberty or Death presents a nonfiction complement to Anderson's books.  Blair explains why many slaves served the British during the American Revolution and what they hoped to get out of it: Freedom.  Some slaves did serve with the patriots for the same reason.  Unfortunately, few slaves actually received freedom.  The British encouraged slaves to run away from their masters, but only patriot masters, slaves belonging to loyalists were returned.  Once the British lost the war, slaves living in New York were given a chance to prove that they should be free and given the opportunity to leave American shores, but many slaves outside of New York, remained in slavery.  Even those who received freedom, were not given equal treatment. For example, some black loyalists moved north to Canada, but few received the land they had been promised.  The narrative is clear and easy to follow.  The illustrations provide a nice touch and give the reader a glimpse into the experiences of slaves during the time period.  The organization of the book helps the reader understand what happened to the slaves both during and after the American Revolution.

These three books would be great to use in an American History class, they provide a glimpse into a side of the American Revolution that is often neglected.  I also recommend these books for those looking for interesting, thought-provoking stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment

 
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard