Turner (Dust for Dinner) takes readers to a Civil War battlefield in this disturbing picture book narrated by an idealistic 13-year-old. The premise is much the same as that of Gary Paulsen's novel Soldier's Heart (reviewed July 20); unfortunately, the lessons may be too complex for a picture book audience, at least in this treatment. The narrator, a farm boy, has liked Lincoln ever since he gave a speech in the boy's town, and sometime after war breaks out (no specific time or place is given) the memory of that encounter inspires him to join up. He also wants to free the slaves. Lying about his age, he is enlisted as a drummer boy, asked to march with the troops and "raise a tune for our men in battle." In the heat of bloody confrontation, the boy witnesses the atrocities of war. He holds the hand of a mortally wounded soldier "until his eyes stopped seeing." Poetic turns of phrase further describe how grim reality quickly dims a boy's bright-eyed patriotism. But there are problems here. The passage about slavery seems tacked on, the boy never feels fully real and the most interesting information about drummer boys is relegated to an afterword. The ending misfires: the boy bitterly blames Lincoln for making him "see things no boy should ever see." Hess's (Hercules: The Man, the Myth, the Hero) atmospheric, dramatic scenes capture period touches as well as the serenity of rural life and the action of combat. But he, too, stumbles: while all of the other scenes are carefully lit and detailed, a view of slave quarters is so muddy and imprecise that a slave woman looks shockingly misshapen and simian. Well intended but off the mark. Ages 4-8.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Grade 2-4-After hearing Lincoln speak, a 13 year old is mesmerized by the president's powerful presence and runs away to join the Union Army as a drummer boy. After a quick acceptance by the army, he eagerly dons his uniform and learns how to handle his instrument. The battle scenes are frightening but not terribly gory. The unnamed youngster is understandably disturbed as he witnesses his first deaths. He does not become hardened to the sadness, but he does learn to cope and do his job, relaying orders with his drumbeats and masking some of the agonized battle sounds. Two portraits frame the story. In the first, he is an innocent-looking farm boy wearing a straw hat, a small, anticipatory smile on his lips. By the end of the book, his eyes are shadowed and his mouth is set in a firm line. He has seen "things no boy should ever see." The narrative does not have the emotional pull of George Ella Lyon's Cecil's Story (Orchard, 1991) or the gut-wrenching power of Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say (Philomel, 1994). However, Turner's prose vividly relates the boy's situation in a few well-chosen words set off in small boxes. Paired with Hess's historically illuminating paintings, the result is an informative introduction to the Civil War. It would be a great resource to share with students reading fiction such as G. Clifton Wisler's Mr. Lincoln's Drummer (1995) or Red Cap (1991, both Lodestar).
Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I love to teach history and this book is a winner. I am always amazed how children focus on the glory of war, not the reality. This book gently brings home the reality. Read morePublished on June 9 2000 by Sandra Hunt
This story is about a boy who joined the army because Abraham Lincoln asked him to so he can bring spirit to the solders. So he did and became a drummer boy. Read morePublished on May 17 2000