Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Civil Thoughts on the Civil War

Here is another suggestion for your "Books I Need to Read to my Kid" list.  In her Newberry Medal Honor book, Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt chronicles the life of a family living in Southern Illinois during the Civil War.  Jethro, the youngest child of the Creighton family, is too young to go fight.  After his older brothers leave to become soldiers, he is forced to handle the responsibilities of the farm.  Living in a Union state geographically close to Confederate states, the Creighton family is divided by the convictions of one son who decides to fight in a grey uniform while the rest of the family allegiances lie with Old Abe and the North.  Jethro has to bear the physical and emotional burdens of living as a child during a horrific war.

This piece of juvenile fiction teaches history through telling a story.  The major battles of the war are accurately explained as the Creighton family hears about them in the newspaper.  The reader feels the tenseness of the political climate as the townsfolk debate the issues.  Hunt's descriptions of the soldiers' feelings after battles are startling in an age-appropriate way.  This is accomplished when Jethro encounters a deserter and has to face the moral dilemma of helping him or following the law.  His solution is delightful.

The other piece of this history that is so well explained is how, while the supporters of the North wanted peace, they were significantly concerned about how the country was going to function at the conclusion of the war.  Hunt portrays their hope as centered on Lincoln, and she beautifully describes the grief that ensued when that hope could be no more.  Such descriptions are not the way of the average American history text book.  Neither are thoughts like these:

"When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it.  The hardships one endured had a purpose; his mother had been careful to make him aware of that." - p. 53, Across Five Aprils


  1. Historical fiction does seem to make the subject at hand so accessible. One of my favorite books growing up was "The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad," by FN Monjo. (It was probably one of the most formative books of my younger years.)

  2. Rebekah-

    I just read The Drinking Gourd to Copleigh TODAY! How funny. She loved it!


  3. I'll have to look for that book. The boys learned the folk song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" last term.

  4. Just started rereading Across Five Aprils. And started the one we discussed the other day, Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule. The older boys are reading it, too -- it will be interesting to hear their impressions.