Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War

illus. by Gilbert Ford. 80p. bibliog. chron. further reading. notes. websites. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781484725986.
Gr 4–6—Levy (We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song) once again combines music and history, this time penning a sophisticated picture book that presents a moment in the Civil War through the framework of soldiers' songs. An introductory note places students within the context of the Civil War, but the bulk of the story revolves around the Battle of Fredericksburg. While stuck at an impasse on opposite sides of a river after an unexpected Rebel victory, recovering soldiers marked their days with musical military rituals and spent their nights trading opposing patriotic songs that they "fired back and forth like musical cannonballs." This engaging and descriptive narrative is interspersed with first-person soldiers' accounts. The culmination of the tale is when one side began to play "Home Sweet Home" and the other side joined in, resulting in a night of mutual celebration. Through this event, soldiers were revealed to one another, and thus to readers, as entirely human; "the enemy was also a son, a brother, a husband," to the point where the song was forbidden. Ford (The Wonderful Thing That Came from a Spring) illustrates this heartfelt account with deep colors and silhouetted cutouts. The warmth and explosiveness of music are represented by swirling orange and red lines, along with the actual notations of many of the songs. Ford does not shy away from the brutality of war but avoids gruesomeness with the muted palette and stylized art. The unifying point in time is depicted in a wordless moonlit spread, with layered shades of purple, blue, and green. Concluding with extensive back matter, Levy and Ford leave readers satisfied.
VERDICT An up-close look at a moment in U.S. history and the reality, and unexpected humanity, of war; for sophisticated readers.

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