Saturday, November 22, 2008


Maybe the best way to begin to talk about this book is to lift a quote from the back flap:

"During his many years spent writing American history textbooks, Steve Sheinkin filled fat files with all the amazing stories and surprising quotes that textbook editors would never let him use. Now he is finally using all that material to write history books that kids will actually want to read."

And that's exact what this book is- a history book that kids will actually want to read! Steve Sheinkin has taken all of these stories and quotes and turned them into a factual, fun chronicle of the American Revolution. I'm not sure quite how to describe Sheinkin's approach to talking about the war, other than to say that it's just fun to read. 

The book begins, for instance, with a chapter, "How to Start a Revolution." This chapter is broken into 13 steps, e.g. Step One: Kick Out the French; Step Two: Tax the Colonists; Step Three: Kill the Taxman.  

Sheinkin continues the STORY of the American Revolution using hundred and hundreds of stories- stories of the characters, the battles, the events. I loved learning, for instance, that the British marched toward Lexington and Concord for two purposes: 1) to destroy ammunition that the Patriots had stored there, and 2) to capture Patriot troublemakers Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were holed up with Hancock's fiance Dorothy, were holed up at the house of Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington. When Paul Revere arrived, Hancock and Adams spent the night arguing about whether they should join the battle (Hancock's choice) or flee (Adams' desire). They finally decided to leave, but not before Hancock had instructed Dorothy to meet him in Woburn later that day, and to bring the salmon that they had planned for lunch. 

Kids (and adults) who read this book will truly understand the American Revolution, because the will understand the hearts of major and minor players. They will know, for instance, why Benedict Arnold turned traitor. They'll feel new sympathy for the British soldiers (many of whom were seventeen and eighteen-year-olds who became soldiers simply because they had no other means of supporting themselves). They'll be present at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, where George Washington had the final meeting with his generals at the end of the war. Washington gives a toast, then invites each of the generals to shake his hand. General Henry Knox, the closest, steps forward and takes Washington by the hand, then bursts into tears and grabs Washington in an enormous bear hug. "Then all of the other officers, tears streaming down their cheeks, line up to hug their commander."

At the end of the book, Sheinkin includes a section, "Whatever Happened To…," a series of short biographies of major characters after the war, as well as extensive notes about his research process and sources. The artwork, black line drawings done by  Tim Robinson, perfectly match the voice of the text. There are pictures of events and characters on almost every page. My favorites, though, are the labelled maps, that really help the reader understand the geography of a number of events throughout the war. 

This should be a must read for every American history teacher! 

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