Collecting Children's Books is hosting a blog tour for a new book today. Written by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger, STONEWALL HINKLEMAN AND THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN was recently published by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Considering the subject matter of STONEWALL HINKLEMAN, I thought it might also be interesting to make a quick literary tour of other Civil War battlegrounds in children's fiction.
...So, watch your step and climb on board the tour bus. Your fellow passengers include:
A CHILDREN'S BOOK ENTHUSIAST. She loooves everything!
AN ELDERLY WOMAN. A night-school junkie, she's currently taking an evening course in children's literature (or, as she likes to call it, "kiddy-lit." It sounds so hep!) The course description said that graduates of the class will learn enough to "possibly join the lucrative fields of professional storytelling, writing novels for young people, or maybe even editing children's books from the comfort of your own home."
AN ELDERLY MAN. The elderly woman's husband, he's basically along for the ride. And the free lunches that are included in the cost of the bus tour.
A BOY WITH A BACKPACK.
THE TOUR GUIDE.
Oh yeah, we need someone to drive the bus.
I think I'd better drive this bus.
All aboard? Seatbelts buckled? Okay, first stop Vicksburg!
TOUR GUIDE: One of the most consistent writers of historical fiction these days is Ann Rinaldi.
CHILDREN'S BOOK ENTHUSIAST: Oh, I just looove her!
TOUR GUIDE: In Ms. Rinaldi's brand-new book, MY VICKSBURG, a young Mississippi girl and her family hide in a cave for several weeks while the Union Army attacks their town. Another interesting book about this battle is THE VICKSBURG VETERAN by F.N. Monjo (1971.) Told in the first-person voice of Fred, Ulysses S. Grant's twelve-year-old son, the story is written in a spare, poetic style that predates the current trend of novels-in-verse.
ELDERLY WOMAN (confidently; she's been taking notes in class): Those verse books are very hot right now.
ELDERLY MAN: If you're hot, roll down the window.
TOUR GUIDE: I guess that covers the main Vicksburg books--
BOY WITH A BACKPACK (pulling out book): What about this one?
TOUR GUIDE: Oh, that's right: THE TAMARACK TREE by Patricia Clapp (1986.) This story of an English immigrant who gets trapped between the two sides of the Civil War is one of those popular books that still somehow went out of print. Patricia Clapp didn't write many books during her career, but all of them remain well-remembered and loved by a lot of readers.
BOY WITH A BACKPACK: And another one.
TOUR GUIDE: Oh yeah. DIARY OF A DRUMMER BOY by Marlene Targ Brill (1998) uses a fictionalized diary format to tell the story of a real-life boy from the Union Army. Now on to Antietam....
TOUR GUIDE: Rosemary Wells is an author-illustrator best known for her picture books.
CHILDREN’S BOOK ENTHUSIAST: Oh, I just looove her.
TOUR GUIDE: But she has written a few thought-provoking, contemporary suspense novels as well. In 2007, she surprised us all when she published an historical novel, RED MOON AT SHARPSBURG. Rather than tell you about the plot, I think I'll read a scene in which the protagonist encounters the fallen bodies of soldiers on a battleground:
In front of us a soldier is crumpled in a heap, his legs draped over a log. His arms are raised about his head, stiff as iron pokers.
"Look at the breast of that man's tunic now. Look, look!" Tennessee holds my hand in his and points.
A little teaspoon of light, green as a cat's eye, winks out from the soldier's breast. It pops from between two buttons and holds still three inches over the top of him. Whatever it might be, it's as slight as a baby's sigh.
"What is that?" I pull back from it.
"Look careful now!" urges my friend, and takes my elbow as if I'm bound to faint.
For one beat of a heart, the thirty-acre cornfield is a carpet of emerald stars. No bigger than dollar pieces, they spill from the fallen men as far as a person can see. Then they bubble upward and vanish into the blackness of the sky.
My Tennessee friend steers me to an uphill path and gives me his lantern. "Some people say it's swampfire," he whispers, "but it was the souls going up."
ELDERLY MAN: Probably just fireflies.
ELDERLY WOMAN: I wonder if they sell that book in the Antietam gift shop.
TOUR GUIDE: When it comes to Chancellorsville, one book primarily comes to mind: THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane. Published in 1895, this book is so popular that it's currently available in at least thirty editions -- not to mention Kindle and Cliff Notes versions.
ELDERLY WOMAN: Not that anyone should ever read the Cliff Notes instead of the novel.
The Battle of the Wilderness
TOUR GUIDE: Patricia Beatty's CHARLEY SKEDADDLE (1987) is frequently taught in schools. It concerns a New York boy who joins the Union army as a drummer, but deserts after The Battle in the Wilderness. This book won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
CHILDREN'S BOOK ENTHUSIAST: And I just looove Scott O'Dell!
TOUR GUIDE: THE JOURNAL OF RUFUS ROWE by Sid Hite (2003) concerns a runaway who records the events of the Battle of Fredericksburg in a journal. Part of the "Dear America/My Name is America" series, this slim book provides a fictionalized, but believable account of an important Virginia battle.
ELDERLY WOMAN: Are we going to visit any locations from RIFLES FOR WATIE (1957)?
TOUR GUIDE: Actually, RIFLES takes place mostly in the west, so I don’t think any of the main Civil War battlefields are included in that novel.
ELDERLY WOMAN: That’s a shame. It’s the only Civil War book that ever won the Newbrary Award, you know. I learned that in my ‘kidlit’ class.
Camps and Prisons
TOUR GUIDE: Although not technically part of this "battlefield tour," I think we should mention a few books that describe the awful conditions in Civil War camps and prisons. In one of his best books, Richard Peck paints a horrific portrait of life in an outdoor military hospital in THE RIVER BETWEEN US (2003.) And RED CAP by G. Clifton Wisler (1991) concerns a drummer boy sent to Andersonville Prison.
CHILDREN'S BOOK ENTHUSIAST: A lot of these books are about drummer boys.
TOUR GUIDE: Since these are children's books, authors often use drummers as protagonists so the story can focus on a young character.
BOY WITH A BACKPACK: Don't forget PINK AND SAY by Patricia Polacco (1994.) The narrator ends up in the Andersonville Prison in this one too.
ELDERLY MAN: Does anyone mind if I open the window back here?
ELDERLY WOMAN: I told you not to order that chili at the Andersonville Cafeteria.
TOUR GUIDE: The protagonist of Gary Paulsen's A SOLDIER'S HEART (1998) participates in many Civil War battles, but the story reaches its climax at Gettysburg. A lot of readers think this is is one of Paulsen's best books. In fact, Booklist magazine selected it as their "Top of the List" title for 1998.
BOY WITH A BACKPACK: Don't forget about THUNDER AT GETTYSBURG by Patricia Lee Gauch (1975), a fictionalized day-by-day account of the battle, and THE SLOPES OF WAR by N.A. Perez (1984), which places its protagonist at Gettysburg, with two of his cousins fighting on the opposing side. And if anyone is interested in older books--
BUS DRIVER: I am.
BOY WITH A BACKPACK: -- there’s a 1924 book by Elsie Singmaster called A BOY OF GETTYSBURG.
TOUR GUIDE: Elsie Singmaster grew up in Gettysburg and made that town and its famous battle the focus of much of her writing. She even got a 1933 Newbery Honor for her book SWORDS OF STEEL : THE STORY OF A GETTYSBURG BOY (1932.)
CHILDREN’S BOOK ENTHUSIAST: I’ve never heard of her...but I bet I’d just looove those books!
TOUR GUIDE: Finally, we’re arriving at Bull Run. That’s also the name of a very fine novel by Paul Fleischman, which was published in 1993. BULL RUN recreates the famous battle through the voices of sixteen people who witnessed the conflict.
Someone else who witnesses that conflict, quite unexpectedly, is the young protagonist of STONEWALL HINKLEMAN AND THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN (2009.) He’s a kid whose parents force him to participate in Civil War re-enactments. Then one day he accidentally travels back in time and visits the Battle of Bull Run himself....
ELDERLY WOMAN: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could time-travel back to the Civil War and see what it was really like?
ELDERLY MAN: Who’d want to go back to Andersonville in the 1860s? Their chili today was bad enough.
TOUR GUIDE: I think every time I lead one of these bus tours through the Civil War battlefields, I’m taking people back in time a little bit...helping them to see the world as it was a hundred and fifty years ago.
BOY WITH A BACKPACK: And every time we read any of these Civil War novels, we’re definitely transported back in history. It’s almost as good as being there.
ELDERLY WOMAN: That is just a lovely thought. (Digging in her purse.) And I am going to share it with my kidlit teacher!
TOUR GUIDE: You’re going to write it down?
ELDERLY WOMAN: No, I’m going to Twitter her. (Takes phone from purse.) The past is fine, but the present has some benefits as well.
TOUR GUIDE: Well, that concludes our tour of Civil War sites. Please stay seated until the bus comes to a complete stop. And I’m sure our bus driver would appreciate a tip.
ELDERLY MAN: I’ve got a tip for him: stay away from the chili at Andersonville.
TOUR GUIDE: And if anyone wants to know more about the STONEWALL HINKLEMAN AND THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN blog tour, you can click here. And if you’d like to enter a contest to win a signed copy of the book, a T-shirt just like the one Stonewall wears on the cover of the book, plus advance copies of other Dial Book for Young Readers, send an e-mail to email@example.com and put "Stonewall Contest" in the subject line.