Gray (Finding Mettle, 2007) continues to explore the history of her family in this exciting children’s tale of a small island threatened by warships in 1814.
After young Amos helps keep the sheep out of the family pumpkin patch, he and his Wabanaki friends Pial and Azo spot a ship off the coast of their hometown of Squirrel Island, Maine. Later that night, Amos’ older brothers talk about the dangers posed by the British ship, and Papa encourages the boys to fight: “Now, Francis and you Henry be old enough to hold off the jack tars if it comes to that. I’m not telling you to go; I’m saying that if you’ve a mind, I won’t stand in your way.” The next day, as Amos daydreams of being a soldier, two British troops try to kidnap the family’s sheep. Luckily, Amos’ mother’s bravery, and her large gun, scare the looters away. This book is less a story than a series of vignettes loaded with historical details. Amos observes all of his family’s chores during the day, for example, and two wonderful illustration spreads show family life around the house after dinner. The inclusion of Amos’s Wabanaki friends is another unusual, refreshing element. Gray’s attention to detail in her prose and illustrations is admirable, and the list of resources at the end will provide young readers with ways to get more information about the War of 1812 or the story’s Maine setting. But although the details are very strong, the story has little sense of urgency, in part because its central character, Amos, doesn’t truly grasp the danger. As a result, young history buffs may be intrigued by the fact that the story is based on a true account, but more adventure-seeking readers may be disappointed by the lack of action.
A historically detailed but slow-paced set of vignettes that captures the feel of rural Maine during the War of 1812.