February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Revolutionary America | New Books for Children and Teens

Another Independence Day has come and gone, but interest in the events leading up to our nation’s beginnings and our Founding Fathers and Mothers, never wanes. Order these new titles for your classroom and library collections before the new school year begins.

redstarBROCKENBROUGH, Martha. Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary. 384p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. Feiwel & Friends. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250123190.

Gr 7 Up –Brockenbrough engagingly re-creates the complex character and eventful life of Alexander Hamilton in her nuanced biography. The author explores this eloquent, passionate, and principled founding father, from his illegitimate birth on the Caribbean island of Nevis to his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. The chronological narrative relies on thorough research to present details of Hamilton as an orphan, student, Revolutionary War hero, writer, doting husband and father, womanizer, politician, and public servant. Delving into his relationships with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Burr, John Adams, James Madison, the Schuyler sisters, and Maria Reynolds, the author tempers what would otherwise be a glowing tribute by investigating Hamilton’s all-consuming ambition, love of women, and obsessive devotion to being a man of honor. Readers not well versed in American history will appreciate the clear, approachable syntax and storytelling that compellingly presents complicated events and ideas. Judicious use of primary and secondary sources ensures historical accuracy as the title provides insight into Hamilton’s thoughts and offers a welcome scattering of humorous anecdotes. The prose strengthens as the well-paced work progresses; Brockenbrough hits her stride with a suspenseful description of the Battle of Yorktown. VERDICT A highly enjoyable, well-researched biography of Alexander Hamilton that both applauds his significant accomplishments and highlights his flaws. Consider for sophisticated readers.–Kate Reid, The Allen-Stevenson School, New York

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2017 issue.

CASTROVILLA, Selene. Revolutionary Rogues: John André and Benedict Arnold. illus. by John O’Brien. 48p. bibliog. chron. Calkins Creek. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629793412.
Gr 3-6–In short, dramatic scenes, this title by the author of Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette presents the story of two notorious Revolutionary War soldiers. The straightforward narrative alternates between the viewpoints of British major John André and American major General Benedict Arnold, two men whose desire for power and recognition eclipsed their sense of honor and integrity. The book unfolds chronologically, moving from British headquarters in New York City to various outposts throughout upstate New York. Negotiations took some time, but eventually a deal was struck and the conspirators finally met. At each turn along the road to treason, Castrovilla shines a light on the motivations and conflicted emotions of André and Arnold. Although they dreamed of glory, the two Revolutionary rogues both came to a bitter end. The ink and watercolor illustrations set the scene in careful detail. The muted colors and interesting textures of the artwork call to mind old-fashioned woodblock prints. In two panels depicting Arnold’s narrow escape, the American traitor dashes through the front door of his sumptuous home as his dismayed wife looks on, and then rides on horseback down a rocky hill to the river. A concluding author’s note and a list of places to visit add historical interest. VERDICT Future historians will enjoy this psychological chronicle of how Arnold plotted with André to betray his fellow patriots.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

This review was published in the School Library Journal July 2017 issue.

FULTON, Kristen. Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation. illus. by Holly Berry. 40p. bibliog. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481460965.
Gr 1-5–Hailing from a long line of flag makers, 13-year-old Caroline Pickersgill was up to the challenge when the commander of Fort McHenry in Baltimore came to her mother’s business and ordered the biggest flag he could get (42 feet by 30 feet). Over the next six weeks, Caroline and her mother, grandmother, and two cousins, along with 13-year-old Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant to Caroline’s mother, spent numerous hours cutting and stitching the flag together. When the fort was later attacked by the British during the War of 1812, it was this magnificent flag that would inspire Francis Scott Key to write what would become “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Fulton describes the British attack with fervor, integrating lyrics to the anthem into the narrative (“Each explosion gave enough light for Caroline to see, through the night, that the flag was still there.”), while Berry’s collaged block prints with colored pencil are full of energy, action, and red, white, and blue. VERDICT A brief but stirring account of a moment in early U.S. history. For medium to large collections.–Heidi Grange, Summit Elementary School, Smithfield, UT


This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2017 issue.

HOPKINSON, Deborah. Independence Cake: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History Is Unfortunately Unknown. illus. by Giselle Potter. 44p. websites. Random/Schwartz & Wade. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385390170.

Gr 3-5–Just as cooks wash their hands before they get to work, so does Hopkinson come clean about this story: Amelia Simmons, the writer of the first American cookbook, did exist, but almost everything else in the following pages is a delightful concoction based on the scant details known about her life. Amelia describes herself as “an American orphan”: her father is imagined to be a fallen soldier; her mother, a victim of smallpox; and Amelia, a “bound girl” taken in by a large family to help with the household. She learns to cook English dishes and eventually creates new recipes using local ingredients, such as winter squash for pudding and cornmeal for flapjacks. Culinary parallels to the Revolutionary War are cleverly woven throughout, and the watercolor and ink illustrations, relying on a delectable, warm palette, depict red apples, pumpkins, lemons, pickles, and sacks of grain. Though the details are made up, Amelia is still an inspiring character, so much so that readers may even want to tackle the “independence cake” recipe, with its 20 pounds of flour and 15 pounds of sugar. An author’s note and links for modern versions of Election Day cakes are also included. VERDICT A strange but appealing bit of Americana that might fit into some history and maker units. Like most confections, it’s an additional but nonessential purchase.–Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2017 issue.

MOONEY, Carla. The U.S. Constitution: Discover How Democracy Works. illus. by Tom Casteel. 128p. (Build It Yourself). glossary. illus. index. Nomad. Sept. 2016. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781619304413.
Gr 4-8–Mooney adds another informational volume to the series with an overview of the U.S. Constitution. She explains the background of the American Revolution as well as the significance of early documents like the Declaration of Independence. The long road to the establishment of the Constitution is examined, including the debates among the differing factions at the Constitutional Convention. The text lays out in accessible language important concepts such as the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, and the process for amending the Constitution. The author covers various amendments in detail, with excerpts from several primary documents. She also explores historical documents from Europe that provide context to the Constitution, including the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. Dozens of activities pepper the text, such as discussion questions regarding the Declaration of Independence and debate ideas between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Casteel’s color illustrations are simple and inviting, and they illuminate important points clearly. VERDICT A handy and useful resource for upper elementary and middle school classrooms with an interest in government and politics.–Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant Public Library, IA

This review was published in the School Library Journal October 2016 issue.

QUIRK, Anne. The Good Fight: The Feuds of the Founding Fathers (and How They Shaped the Nation). illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. 128p. bibliog. notes. websites. Knopf. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524700355.

Gr 4-7 –Many books have been written on early U.S. history, including ones that discuss infighting among the Founding Fathers, and though this title might appear to be just another foray into this subject, it’s much more. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by not only all the nuggets of history they’ll learn but also by the lesson that heated debate isn’t necessarily bad—it can even be wildly productive. The work opens with the dispute between George and George (that is, George III and George Washington). The most interesting story is probably that of Benjamin Franklin and his Tory son, William. (Who knew that dad allowed his son to rot in jail during the Revolutionary War?) Humorous text and cartoonish black-and-white illustrations keep the narrative lighthearted and well paced. An afterword acknowledges some of the hypocrisies surrounding our nation’s architects but ends on a rather hopeful note (“But the founding fathers aren’t the only founders of America…. The United States is still growing and changing.”). VERDICT A general purchase for U.S. history collections, especially for fans of Steve Sheinkin’s King George: What Was His Problem?; Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution.–Esther Keller, I.S. 278, Brooklyn

THOMPSON, Ben. The American Revolution. 336p. (Guts & Glory). bibliog. index. websites. Little, Brown. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316312097.

Gr 4-7 –Employing slang and modern jargon, Thompson describes the events of and leading up to the American Revolution, from 1765 until the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Readers learn of the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the leaders of the revolution. Lively and detailed accounts of battles are spiced with interesting tidbits: an 80-year-old former soldier fended off six British soldiers single-handedly at the Battle of Lexington; a mysterious orphan charged the British stronghold at Stony Point, NY; Deborah Sampson, posing as a man, pulled a bullet out of her thigh rather than seek medical attention so as to keep her gender a secret; and more. Interspersed are details about several of the American leaders. This selection is comprehensive and provides a good overview of the revolution. A few facts are incorrect or misrepresented: Thompson implies that the Stamp Act was not repealed until after 1770; states that the Tories captured by Nancy Hart were taken prisoner (they were hanged); and claims that Henry Clinton sent Charles Cornwallis to invade the South in 1780 when he himself actually initiated the operation. Minor errors aside, the book is sure to enthrall readers. ­VERDICT Though there are other suitable titles that cover the Revolutionary War, such as Deborah Kent’s The American Revolution: From Bunker Hill to Yorktown, Thompson’s work is more entertaining and will attract readers looking for a relatable viewpoint.–Margaret Nunes, Gwinnett County Public Library, GA

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2017 issue. 

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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