HMNS is currently hosting three special exhibitions, two of which are Genghis Khan and Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor, so the topic for this month’s booklist is soldiers and warfare.
Jean Fritz, author of Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold, has written numerous books about American history and explains her work: “My approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface.” Because of this, her books bring history alive as she helps students understand the personalities and motivations of the individuals who shaped our country.
The first few sentences of Traitor are a powerful and telling introduction to Arnold’s life: “When Benedict Arnold was a teenager, some people in his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, predicted that he’d grow up to be a success. Others said, No. Benedict Arnold would turn out badly. As it happened, everyone was right.”
Fritz introduces you to an Arnold you probably did not know—a druggist and a sea captain who loved shoes but was obsessed with his honor. The Revolutionary War provided a unique stage for Arnold, and he became a general–but made many enemies along the way.
In Philadelphia, Arnold met fashionable but spoiled Peggy Shippen, whose father was sympathetic to the British. They were married, but the happy day was clouded by Arnold’s upcoming court martial and increasing financial problems. Arnold began to think that if he “could not win the war for the Americans, he might at least bring the war to an end,” and become a hero. With this thinking, becoming a traitor was not difficult. According to Fritz, Arnold apparently never understood the enormity of his actions.
Paul Fleischman, author of Bull Run, won a Newbery Medal, as did his author father, Sid Fleischman. After growing up in California, Paul lived in New England, and his love of history grew. “I thought about teaching history as a career, but decided to bring it into my books instead.” Bull Run is a collection of short monologues – so, in addition to being read by individuals, this book is suitable for classes to read aloud. The book has 16 characters, both men and women—one only 11 years old– in sets of 8 from the North and 8 from the South. The characters describe their lives and experiences leading up to and including the Battle of Bull Run, the Civil War’s first major battle. Because of the number of individuals involved, you experience the battle and its aftermath from many perspectives as the characters learn that war is not a game.
Newbery Medal winner Avi is one of the most popular authors for children and young adults. The Award-winning book, The Fighting Ground, is a fictional account of a day in the life of 13-year-old Jonathan during the Revolutionary War. Jonathan’s older brother and cousin are soldiers, and his father had been wounded near Philadelphia. More than anything, Jonathan wants to be a soldier, too. When the bell at the town tavern began to ring, Jonathan tricks his mother into letting him investigate what is happening, and as he leaves home, his day-long adventure begins. Jonathan comes to realize that being a soldier is not glamorous, and when he is captured by the Hessians, his journey towards manhood continues as he is exposed to the horrors of war.
Many of the titles of Jean Fritz’s books about American history end with a question mark. Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?, What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?, and And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? Perhaps her best-known book is her memoir, Homesick, that tells the story of her childhood growing up in China in the 1920’s and China Homecoming, the story of her return to China years later.
Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voiceswon the Newbery Medal, but don’t miss Seedfolks and Whirligig. Seedfolks illustrates the power of one person to change a community, and Whirligig is the story of teenage Brent who drives drunk and kills innocent Lea. Lea’s mother asks Brent to put a whirligig that looks like Lea in Washington, California, Florida and Maine, and his journey to fulfill this request leads to his own inner journey.
Books by Avi that should not be missed are The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing But the Truth and Wolf Rider. Readers will be fascinated by Charlotte’s adventures on her transatlantic voyage in 1832, including being accused of murdering the ship’s captain. In Nothing But the Truth, high school freshman Phillip Malloy’s humming of “The Star Spangled Banner” sets in motion a series of events which leads to the question, “What really IS the truth?” Wolf Rider has the best opening sentence I have ever read. After reading that sentence, you cannot put the book down.