Monday, January 11, 2010

By the Sword by Selene Castrovilla

Ages: 9-12
Publication: Already Available
Illustrated by: Bill Farnsworth


When America went to war for independence from the British, so did Benjamin Tallmadge.  A school teacher by trade, Tallmadge gave up his profession and joined many other young men in the pursuit of freedom; freedom by the sword, the cannon, and the rifle.  But what is it really like to give up the safety of your old life and enter the chaos of the Revolutionary war?  Benjamin would soon find out.


Castrovilla paints a vivid picture of what life was like as a member of George Washington’s troops.  Based on a memoir and other historical documents, the author creates a work of historical fiction that not only encompasses the brutality of wartime, but shows the human side as well. 


Castrovilla eschews the usual “glory” of war stories in children’s history books and tells it like it was.  The story’s main character endures days in a muddy trench, eats tiny rations of raw meat, and fears for his life every time the thunder rolls.  This realism is refreshing in that Castrovilla gives history with the ugly and the good; she recognizes, in specifics, just what sacrifices soldiers of that time were asked to make.


The main character, Benjamin Tallmadge, brings to life the human aspects of wartime.  His thoughts, actions, worries, and fears clue readers into just how much the American side struggled during the Revolutionary war.  When Benjamin forgets his horse, Highlander, during an undercover flight for safety, he risks his life to retrieve his beloved animal.  Even during a war, Benjamin protected his pet as he protected himself. 


Bill Farnsworth adds more to the story with haunting and slightly out of focus illustrations.  Oil paintings that lack sharp focus and minute details serve as both metaphor of the haze of war and a reminder that history remembers big events, not the small details—sometimes the small details are lost all together!  The soft focus and muted colors also help to show the violence, but leave the graphic stuff to readers’ imaginations.


Interesting, intimate, and involved; this book is a good introduction to the Revolutionary war as it truly was.  The happy ending will keep young readers from getting overwhelmed and serves as confirmation that troublesome times can lead to better times.  This should be a classroom staple.


Rating: 4 Pages      

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful review you have written. I particularly liked the imagery you used describing the illustrations. I am so glad I stumbled upon your website.