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January Books: Men of the American Revolution

By on January 3, 2012

Completing one war, still engaged in another, and especially during the year ahead as we contemplate the upcoming presidential election, our country is on the cusp of major changes. We can experience the urgency of a similar period in our country’s history through the pages of these amazing books. Set during the Revolutionary War, the life stories of three brilliant, resourceful, courageous men can serve us as models of success against sometimes overwhelming odds. Choose from this list to share the adventures of these brave and talented individuals whose persuasive skills and daring helped to shape a nation whose freedoms we cherish.

by Meribeth C. Shank

The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution

by Jim Murphy
Scholastic, $21.99, Ages 9-12

An early indecisive leader, readers can observe the amateur George Washington grow into a strong confident commander as he organizes unruly rebellious men into a disciplined army and in the process is shaped by the responsibilities he assumes and strategies he crafts. Attentively researched, written with vigorous language, and supported by carefully chosen paintings, maps and engravings, author Murphy, recognized for his award-winning nonfiction, shares his passion for his subject in the nimble text and play-by-play of the fighting, as if readers were participants. Quoting from letters and journals, Murphy energizes this book with the voices of those who were there, as they recount what happened, and the secrecy surrounding many of Washington’s orders.

Constantly coping with deserters and inexperienced troops, Washington kept up a “hit-and-run style of fighting, avoiding head-to-head” combat and with the remaining committed, trained fighters, who grew to trust and follow him, he transformed the army and himself, helping to birth a new nation. While not a thorough account of the many long years of war, this book shows Washington’s emerging leadership, his skill as a strategist, and his ability to inspire loyalty and maintain a following.

With an Introduction, Timeline, Notes and Sources, Index and a list of Revolutionary War Sites to visit in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the back matter also includes a reproduction of the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, and a brief commentary on the painting itself.

Lafayette and the American Revolution

by Russell Freedman
Holiday, $24.95, Ages 10-13

While still a teen, young Gilbert de Lafayette, who was born into a wealthy French family, joined his fortune and reputation to that of the American patriots, viewing the war between England and its colonies as a chance to demonstrate his abilities and commitment.  Such an opening was unavailable in France, where there was no war in which to prove oneself, and where appointments were given according to position and wealth, not ability. Serving under General Washington, at Lafayette’s request, provided him with the opportunity to learn, and ignited a friendship between the two – “the forty-five-year-old commander who had never fathered a son, and the nineteen-year-old French nobleman who had never seen his father.

Author Freedman, whose biographies for children regularly win awards, writes with absorbing detail and infuses his storytelling with anecdotes of Lafayette’s early life giving shape to his eagerness to show what he can do. This same attention to incidents that might otherwise be minor, builds the nature of Lafayette’s character, providing a framework of understanding for the young man’s persistence, strategizing, and use of his inheritance to both get him where he wanted to go, and to support the cause in which he was investing his life.  Paintings, portraits, engravings, and pages from documents accompany the text on nearly every double page spread, adding interest and setting Lafayette’s eventful life in the context of the era in which he lived.

As Lafayette’s tour of duty with the American army extended and his rank was no longer “honorary,” he was granted command, shared hardships with his men, negotiated treaties with Indian tribes, and grew in admiration and respect for Washington. These experiences supplied him with an insider’s view and, uniquely positioned, Lafayette returned to France to persuade his king and country to support the colonies.

Following the conclusion of the war and Lafayette’s arrival in France amid great acclaim, he continued to work, during his long life, for the same ideals in France, he had fought for in America. Includes a Time Line, Source Notes, a Selected Bibliography, and Index.

The Many Rides of Paul Revere

by James Cross Giblin
Scholastic, $17.99, Ages 9-12

Award-winning author, editor, lecturer and avid history buff Giblin once again makes a revolutionary war hero accessible to young readers with his formidable storytelling talents.  Engravings, paintings, drawings, portraits, and photos in sepia tones illustrate the engrossing text on almost every page, inviting readers into the life of a first-generation immigrant American whose work for the revolution took many different forms.

Revere was a master craftsman silversmith, learning the craft as a youngster, apprenticed to his skilled father. As a teen, he formed a bell-ringers society with five of his friends to serve the church and earn money. When British rule pressed hard on colonists’ incomes, Revere acquired new skills, becoming a dentist and a copper engraver. As the owner of a horse, Revere added “messenger for the revolution” to his many tasks, making numerous rides across the countryside on missions that not only involved carrying messages, but put him in a position to win support for his city of Boston in its times of need, linked communities before modern communication was available, and helped to raise an army to fight British soldiers enforcing King George’s edicts.

Revere not only made engravings of events, but also paper money (since Great Britain only allowed British coins) and later built a powder mill and “obtained the information he needed” to make gunpowder for the colonists’ army! After the war Revere continued to support the newly independent United States by setting up a foundry in Boston’s shipyards and producing a wide variety of objects in daily use, such as iron hammers and stoves. As needs in the new country grew, Revere developed his capacities, repairing and casting bells for church towers, even making metal fittings for ships. He also built the first rolling mill in America; to produce sheet copper for the bottoms of ships, to cover the dome of the Boston Statehouse, and to protect boilers, on the then-new steamships, from exploding.

After his death at the age of 83, newspapers paid him tribute, calling him an early and tireless Patriot. His work after the war in his foundry and rolling copper mill were premier examples of industrialization in America, and his unwearying work, like millions of other Americans, is an example of the investment, ingenuity and plain hard work contributed by immigrants in the making of the United States.  Additional featured material at the end; the famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” its author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a brief Comparison, a Time Line, Historic Sites to Visit, with a map of Boston and surrounds, Source Notes and Bibliography, and Index.

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, teaches classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web:

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