May 17, 2004

Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt

I read recently in a book about textbook publishing and censorship in the use of teaching materials that there are two types of books published for children and young adults. The author of the book, Diane Ravitch, makes the distinction between "mirror" books that reflect back to the reader images of themselves and "window" books that give to the young reader access to other worlds and times and cultures. Many books written about teen problems and teen issues are mirror books. She also argues that "good" literature tends to be of the window variety. I personally think both have their places in the reading lives of children but I did find that to be a very interesting distinction since the YA books that I as an adult enjoy tend to be of the window variety while the mirror variety bores me to tears.

With that in mind, I would class this as a window book. It is the story of 9 year old Jethro Creighton who, in 1861, watches his family disintegrate because of the coming of the Civil War. The Creighton's live in southern Illinois where the feelings pro and con for the secession of the south are mixed in the community. And one brother goes to fight for the South and the other goes to fight for the North. For the next 4 years Jethro watches as his family struggle to maintain their place in the community—a brother off to fight the North is not a good thing for them—and to maintain their farm in the face of other family crisis. His father has a heart attack and Jethro becomes the backbone of the farm. A vigilante group sets their barn on fire and neighbors that had previously been antagonistic pitch in to help rebuild and restock their farm.

It's an interesting meditation on community and standing up for what you believe and loyalty in the face of hostile opinions. It's also a great way to get a little history into a kid since the events of the Civil War from Fort Sumter to Appomattox are a part of Jethro life and the economic issues, aside from slavery, that led up to the war are talked about in the family. It's a real life story about a believable kid in an awful time and I could find all sorts of complicated ethical dilemmas to discuss within the context of the book. I enjoyed the writing as well. She has a knack for making images and situations believable without overwriting them that I appreciated. Good book!

Posted by Deb English at May 17, 2004 07:09 PM