Tag Archives: Civil War

A Friday Surprise…on Wednesday

27 Apr

One of the arcs I picked up at ALA Midwinter in January was this


My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter, is the tale of a Samuel, born in freedom, but, by a twist of fate is kidnapped and sold into slavery, just as the Civil War is ending.

Goodreads Summary: ‘This boy has bought me. This white boy who don’t even look as old as I am. He owns me body and soul and my worth has been set at six hundred dollars.’

Samuel’s an educated boy. Been taught by a priest. He was never supposed to be a slave.
He’s a good boy too, thoughtful and kind. The type of boy who’d take the blame for something he didn’t do if it meant he saved his brother. So now they don’t call him Samuel. Not anymore. And the sound of guns is getting ever closer…

An extraordinary tale of endurance and hope, Jon Walter’s second novel is a beautiful and moving story about the power of belief and the strength of the human spirit, set against the terrifying backdrop of the American Civil War.

This is great read for middle grade kids for a number of reasons. First, it tackles slavery and, though it doesn’t show the worst aspects, it shows many horrible aspects of it. It shows the power of reading and the power of  faith without being preachy. I will say that the opening, which begins with a blind-folded Samuel being carried off to be sold into slavery, is a little confusing. Walter opens with a classic “start in the middle” strategy that might turn off a reader. Once they are in through, readers will find Samuel a reliable narrator and a good friend.


15 Aug

During the Christmas break of 1991-92, I left Colombia to study Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks. I took a little time off from formal study to travel around Guatemala, hitting some of the required tourist destinations and a few more off beat locations. I went up to Santa Cruz de Quiché where I had a lovely discussion with an older gentleman in a a park who warned me about venerating too far out side the city limits. I had discovered that little old men in parks were wonderful people to talk to, revealing something of their own lives and a something about the place I was visiting.

This particular gentleman had spent time in the US, training with the military. He told me a little bit about the Civil War, without revealing too much about what he had done during that time.

when I got to Lake Atitlán, I visited a few of the Mayan Villages around the Lake, but was particularly struck by Santiago Atitlán, where many terrible human rights abuses had taken place. Indigenous people were assumed to be universally supporters of the guerrillas who were fighting against the government, and were targeted for brutal reprisals. At least 300 Maya from Santiago Atitlán are believed to have disappeared during the conflict. Two events of this era made international news. One was the assassination of an American missionary  in the church at Santiago Atitlán in 1981. In 1990, a spontaneous protest march to the army base on the edge of town was met by gunfire, resulting in the death of 13 unarmed civilians. Here is a picture of the church.


There is a memorial inside to the people who died.


I write all this to give a little of the personal background I brought to mu reading of  Caminar by Skila Brown. 


This novel in verse, set in 1981, tells the story of one boy who has to wrestle with this terrible period in history. Carlos must learn to survive when his village is attacked. Told from his point of view, the poems help make a difficult story approachable. And the variety of the free verse poems helps the reader see into the mind of a young boy trying to make sense of a very confusing period of history where there isn’t always a clear cut right or wrong, good or bad. Carlos knows soldiers and guerrillas. He knows people who have been killed for no apparent reason.  And he needs to figure out where he stands in this world of confusion.

This is a quick read that sheds light on a time and place not often seen in children;s books. 


Non-fiction Sunday

22 Jun

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Here is an incredible pair of books:  A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin and Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation by Sally M. Walker.

In A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery,  Marrin has not only written a biography of John Brown, but he also offers historical background on slavery in general and how it manifested itself in the US. We learn of John Brown’s relationship with abolitionists and his radicalization. And all this is set against the backdrop of  the years before the Civil War. An excellent addition to US history collections, the book has a substantial number  of photos,  illustrations and artwork from the period, all of which are well captioned, as well as notes, a bibliography for further reading and an index.

Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation by Sally M. Walker is history and geography, mingled with astronomy, math, politics and religion. I think of the line as a Civil War issue, but its history stretches back to the beginnings of the United States, when settlers came to escape religious persecution in England. It continues through property disputes between  the pens and Calverts ,until Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon are called upon to survey the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland. This is a tough read at times and might be best suited for high school students.It is not as dramatic or exciting as  Volcano, but definitely interesting and worth reading.


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