Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Celebrate the Ten Year Old

Ten year olds are at a good place in life. They still think of parents and other trusted adults as being somewhat sensible and intelligent. They are open to new ideas but not so confident that they strike out on adventures sure to get them in serious trouble. This is why reading about ten year olds who dare to take on unfairness and injustice and participate in making the outcome a happy, successful one, are empowering, but safe. A ten year old can live in the character’s skin but put the book down and hurry to the table for dinner with his family. Hopefully, it’s there that he can ask the questions generated by his character’s conflicts.

 ESCAPE BY NIGHT: A Civil War Adventure, by Laurie Myers, illustrated by Amy June Bates, Henry Holt and Company, 2011

A mysterious notebook sets the events of this Civil War adventure in motion. It leads ten year old Tommy to discover a Yankee in hiding in his southern city of Augusta, Georgia.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Tommy lives across the street from his father’s church which has been turned into a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. Tommy witnesses a grim wagon heaped high with wounded men rolling into town. He sees a notebook fall from the hand of a man who may or may not be dead. Tommy and his greyhound, Samson, retrieve the notebook and vow to return it to its owner whom they find inside the church turned hospital still clinging to life. 

The mysterious notebook gives a clue to what the wounded soldier is thinking and leads to Tommy’s discovery that this man is a Yankee. Horrors! He doesn’t “look” like a Yankee. The stranger treats Tommy with respect and answers him honestly even though he seems fully aware that Tommy could give him away. By the time Tommy makes several decisions centering around the Yankee and his beliefs, the reader will be ready to step in and help. But then there is Annie, the little sister who could turn all the plans into failure. What will she do?

Samson plays a major role. The author knows how important dogs are to stories. She collaborated with writers Betsy Duffey and Betsy Byars, the author’s sister and mom, to write My Dog, My Hero. It’s clear the illustrator has connected with Samson as well. The reader might not be surprised if Samson steps out of his picture and responds with a southern accent to the concerns Tommy expresses to his canine confidante.

For more about the author and illustrator, see their websites.

This is an excellent book for readers and parents to talk about. It’s not long and not daunting to reluctant readers or parents with little time who want to read it first and leave it where it’s most likely to be picked up. Escape at Night. How could anyone resist that title?

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