Making the Civil War real

We stopped off at the library today before the roads got their first snow of the year. You must understand, we live in North Carolina and school was cancelled today when they thought that snow would be hitting us around noon or 1pm and they wouldn’t be able to get the high schoolers home in time. The snow didn’t actually get here until 6pm. Anyway, I digress. While combing the bookshelves, I happened upon a “new” book that looked interesting. J actually decided that I could read her three picture books at bedtime tonight and selected Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln as one of them.  I was so impressed with the book that I needed to write about it right away.

just in time abraham

Michael and Derek are off on vacation with their Grandmother. They get on the train and she tells them “No electronics on this trip – no music, no texting, no tweeting, no e-mailing.” The boys don’t know what to do, but they have no choice but to go along with it. The next morning, they get off the train at Harpers Ferry and meet Mr. Portufoy, a “true expert” on the Civil War. “The boys looked at each other, bored,” but their adventure is just about to begin. Mr. Portufoy takes them into his museum and the boys are bored until they see the weapons. Michael explaims that “It must have been cool to fight in that war!”  Mr. Portufoy asks if they would like to play a real game, better than a video game. The boys agree and soon find themselves in 1862 right after the battle of Antietam.

As Goodreads says: “Patricia Polacco’s time-travel premise is fascinating – who knew that history museums could literally be doorways into the past? She makes history exciting for young readers, drawing them into a pivotal part of our nation’s development.”

While this book had some weak moments – the older brother knew random bits of Civil War history yet was only interested in the weapons in Mr. Portufoy’s collection, being allowed to try on “authentic” civil war uniforms, getting into a lengthy conversation with Lincoln and telling him a little about the future including that a black man will become president – overall I thought it was a great read. My daughter has never been very interested in Civil War history and I felt that this book made it a bit more real than other books. The full page spreads of the death and destruction that war brings were especially powerful.just in time spreadWar is hard for children to comprehend. These kids thought that the weapons were “cool” and fighting must have been fun. With all of the games and movies that treat violence with such nonchalance, it is especially important for them to understand that war is not something that any government should go into lightly. While Patricia Polacco definitely took liberties, having Lincoln muse about whether the death of so many young men was worth it makes a strong statement. Lincoln of course wants to know that it is worth the price – “that slavery will be abolished and the Union restored.”

J and I enjoyed reading this book tonight and I would highly recommend it for kids 1st grade and up.




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