Brief fictional sketches walk readers through 150 years of American history.
Arato takes nine powerful slices of American history—such as Valley Forge, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Gold Rush, the founding of the Perkins School for the Blind and Berea College, Hull House, the Johnstown Flood—and wraps them in neat, emotive, unvarnished stories that feature a day in the life of a child caught up in the action. Shannon introduces each segment with an atmospheric illustration, Disney-like scene-setters that function as launching pads for the affecting tales. One may be as plain as the miseries of war—“The Union army regrouped at Bull Run under a pall of defeat so thick, it seemed to suck the air from the sky”—while another may take a more psychological air, as one boy hides a gold nugget so his father can’t gamble it away. Only rarely does the author let the sheer fervor of the story lead her onto shaky ground: Did the Oneida Nation really consider the Revolutionary War as “our cause,” or as a strategic alliance? (She clarifies in a fact-based endnote—one accompanies each chapter—that the Oneidas were ultimately given the raw end of the stick, their treaty lands diminished from 6 million acres to 32 acres.)
Overall, the stories are engaging and inspiring, from the tribulations that came upon Emancipation to the strange new world opened to Chinese workers recruited for the Transcontinental Railroad to the pure brilliance of a school for the blind. (Historical fiction. 9-13)