With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather...

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A SPY CALLED JAMES

THE TRUE STORY OF JAMES LAFAYETTE, REVOLUTIONARY WAR DOUBLE AGENT

Built from an exhaustive search of a mostly unwritten history, Rockwell’s account recasts the American Revolution from the experience of one of the courageous thousands who fought to gain independence from British rule—an independence that did not equate to freedom for the enslaved black population.

While it is popularly known that many more Africans fought alongside the British than the patriots, here Rockwell introduces James, who, upon hearing that an enslaved man could gain his freedom by fighting for the Colonies, volunteers and spies on Gen. Cornwallis. The intelligence James gathers is critical to the decisive American victory at Yorktown, yet freedom is stalled until the Marquis de Lafayette demands James’ manumission, leading to James’ choice of surname as the text proclaims him “finally free!” However, the author’s note reminds readers that the legal freedom of the entire enslaved black population in the United States stands almost a century and another war away. A narrative that is deserving of much nuance (the free James Lafayette may have become a slave owner himself, the author’s note also informs readers) goes without much critical examination, and the narrow records on which it was built provide more insight about the decisions of those around him than the man himself. Readers are left with a story that tries to honor the role African-Americans played in the American Revolution while clinging to a linear history of the United States as always moving forward.

With new historical narratives complicating the period for adults, this well-meant picture book comes off as timid rather than disruptive, leaving children with the usual incomplete story, albeit with an African-American protagonist. (further reading) (Informational picture book. 7-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4677-4933-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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These short pieces may start young people on the search for more information about these intriguing figures.

LADIES OF LIBERTY

THE WOMEN WHO SHAPED OUR NATION

Highlighting women writers, educators, and reformers from the 18th and early 19th centuries, Roberts brings a group of women, many not so well-known, into focus and provides a new perspective on the early history of the United States in this picture-book version of her adult book of the same title (2008).

The women include Lucy Terry Prince, a persuasive speaker who created the first poem (an oral piece not written down for over 100 years after its creation) by an African-American; Elizabeth Bayley Seton, the first American-born saint and the founder of Catholic institutions including schools, hospitals, and orphanages; and Rebecca Gratz, a young philanthropist who started many organizations to help the Jewish community in Philadelphia. The author usually uses some quotes from primary-source materials and enlivens her text with descriptive events, such as Meriweather Lewis’ citation of Sacagawea’s “equal fortitude” with the males of the exploration party during a storm, saving many supplies when their boat capsized. The sepia-hued pen-and-ink drawings are inspired by the letters of the era, and the soft watercolor portraits of the women and the paintings that reveal more of their stories are traditional in feeling. In her introduction, the author emphasizes the importance of historical materials, such as letters, organizational records, journals, and books written at the time. Despite this, there is no bibliography or other means of sourcing quoted material.

These short pieces may start young people on the search for more information about these intriguing figures. (Informational picture book. 8-11)

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-078005-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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A crisp historical vignette.

BEN'S REVOLUTION

BENJAMIN RUSSELL AND THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL

A boy experiences the Boston Tea Party, the response to the Intolerable Acts, and the battle at Breed’s Hill in Charlestown.

Philbrick has taken his Bunker Hill (2013), pulled from its 400 pages the pivotal moments, added a 12-year-old white boy—Benjamin Russell—as the pivot, and crafted a tale of what might have happened to him during those days of unrest in Boston from 1773 to 1775 (Russell was a real person). Philbrick explains, in plainspoken but gradually accelerating language, the tea tax, the Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts, and the quartering of troops in Boston as well as the institution of a military government. Into this ferment, he introduces Benjamin Russell, where he went to school, his part-time apprenticeship at Isaiah Thomas’ newspaper, sledding down Beacon Hill, and the British officer who cleaned the cinders from the snow so the boys could sled farther and farther. It is these humanizing touches that make war its own intolerable act. Readers see Benjamin, courtesy of Minor’s misty gouache-and-watercolor tableaux, as he becomes stranded outside Boston Neck and becomes a clerk for the patriots. Significant characters are introduced, as is the geography of pre-landfilled Boston, to gain a good sense of why certain actions took place where they did. The final encounter at Breed’s Hill demonstrates how a battle can be won by retreating.

A crisp historical vignette. (maps, author’s note, illustrator’s note) (Historical fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16674-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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