Friends of Liberty, by Beatrice Gormley. Eermans, 2013, 184 pages. Age/interest level: 8-14.
Sally Gifford, as the daughter of an honest craftsman in 18th-century Boston, doesn’t have such a bad life, but it suffers by comparison with that of her new friend Kitty Lawson. Except for one key fact the girls share: both have lost their mothers, a pain that creates a firm bond between them. They believe their friendship will withstand any test, but neither anticipate nor understand the political spasms that are beginning to shake their town like an earthquake. “Sons of Liberty,” led by Sam Adams and encouraged from practically every pulpit in town (except the Anglican), are making noise about rebellion, and possibly even independence for the colonies. Sally’s father is lending an ear to the rhetoric, and even quietly solemnly nodding agreement, while her cousin Ethan is acting out more forcefully. Kitty’s father, a wealthy merchant and friend of the Royal Governor, looks down his long nose at the rabble, especially when they start breaking windows. This puts Sally in an awkward in-between position, but when Ethan gets into serious trouble, she’ll have to make a choice. Meanwhile, the Bostonians keep talking about a tea shipment soon to reach their harbor . . .
Friends of Liberty is sturdy historical fiction of the kind that’s not published too much these days. Though a little slow to get into action, the story delivers some exciting moments and challenging quandaries, and is especially strong with character building. Kitty could easily be a thoughtless airhead, but, though a bit flighty, her love for Sally is genuine. Sally’s stepmother, cousin, and Sally herself likewise turns out to have more than two dimensions. The excesses on the part of the Sons of Liberty and the movement’s capacity for sheer hooliganism receive due notice, but the movement is seen, on to whole, to be positive. Liberty, properly managed, is a good thing. Balanced historical fiction is a good thing, too.
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Literary value: 4
Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War, by Helen Frost. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2013, 136 pages including glossary and pronunciation guide. Age/interest level: 8-14.
At first glance and a skim of the subtitle, Salt looks like a mirror image of Friends of Liberty; perhaps with boys this time. But for this story we jump forward in time to the War of 1812, a conflict that’s received little fictional treatment even though we’re observing its Bicentennial. Salt also uses a form that’s still rare but becoming a little more familiar: verse fiction. The story is told alternately by James Gray of Indiana territory and Anikwa of the Miami nation. James’ verse is arranged in seven unrhymed couplets (which with the alternating spaces resembles the thirteen stripes of the American flag), and Anikwa’s is a wavy form representative of Miami ribbon work, a traditional decorative art. The author explains this at the end, and I wish it could have been explained at the beginning. A third “character” narrates its own story: salt, which tells of its origin and use. This is all clever but a little confusing, especially for kids. Okay, for me. That’s why I recommend turning to the final pages and reading the author’s note first.
James lives with his family outside Fort Wayne, where his father trades with soldiers in the fort as well as Indians from the nearby village of Kekionga. The war changes everything, as it usually does. Both British and American armies are converging on Fort Wayne, threatening to disrupt the delicate relationship of Americans and natives. The Miami are caught in the crossfire, facing the destruction of their village—not to mention their way of life. When the action gets too hot, they must flee:
The morning sky/ was still dark when we walked away/ from Kekionga. The top branches of the oak tree/ cradles the half moon, and stars whispered/ their sky stories like old friends: We will still be here/ when you return.
Verse fiction is often characterized by inner dialogue rather than explosive action. The focus is less on what happens than how the characters react to the happenings, and by the end of a good verse novel you should feel like you know them very well. Anikwa is a little older in years than James, but much older in maturity. His American friend sounds a little peevish in comparison, chafing under his mother’s protectiveness and his father’s vacillation. Their situation does not resolve so much as fall back to the ground with all the cards rearranged–no ringing, triumphant conclusions, but that’s often life. And history.
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Literary value: 4.5
We don’t have any War of 1812 recommendations, but we’ve visited the American Revolution several times. Start here with a great picture book on the Boston Tea Party, visit Janie’s and Emily’s thoughts on the Declaration of Independence, listen to Susan Olasky’s thoughts on the people of the Revolution, and read Cheryl Harness’ views on teaching history. Wrap it up with Emily’s first Fourth of July roundup of great Revolutionary Reads!