Thursday, July 9, 2009

Children Reading About the American Revolution

I once heard that if you want to learn something about anything, get a kid’s book on that subject. There’s a lot of merit in that advice.

The personalities and events of the American Revolution can be explained to even very young children. How is this information being presented?

Wrapped in large print, decreasing according to age, basic; very simple, short sentences, with many pertinent facts omitted. And therein lies the catch. Pertinent facts are the links which carry events forward, which explain why certain events turned out the way they did. Young readers want facts, but the reasons behind them may not be included at all. They probably like the story of the Boston Tea party, but don’t read much about the long list of grievances that lead up to it.

The selection of personalities featured seems quite random. It’s not just about Founding Fathers. Some selections may even seem a trifle gimmicky. A harsher critic would probably agree.

For instance, a title featuring Paul Revere is all his ride, most of the time. After all, he is a cult figure as much as a historical personality might allow. We know that Revere’s purpose was to warn notorious Patriots such as John Hancock to avoid capture by the British at all costs. That might have changed the American Revolution. But this very pertinent fact is really not brought out at all. But information needs to keep moving for young readers, and introducing too many personalities certainly won’t do this.

Please don’t think my intention is to disparage juvenile biography. Absolutely not. Anyone can get information this way quickly and simply. That is a real value.

Another example, John Hancock, comes to mind. A title praises Hancock for signing the Declaration of Independence first. There was a reason for this, which is really not mentioned. Hancock was President of the Congress that adopted the Declaration; he had a great deal of power running the show. So it wasn’t surprising that his name would be prominent on that document.

Some of the Revolutionary War personalities were interesting. They are all important, but not on the Founding Fathers’ tier. Information on Patrick Henry was surprisingly complete, with heavy emphasis of course on his “give me liberty or give me death” speech. I think we can call that the most famous quote of the war.

Abigail Adams gets her own volume, mostly discussing her long correspondence with husband John Adams. I doubt that the later correspondence of Adams and Jefferson is discussed as much.

For adolescent readers, the print gets smaller and the treatment longer; a George Washington biography is complete, although the title “Frontier Colonel” seems to indicate only his early checkered military career. He is never treated too harshly.

A volume on John Paul Jones gives basic facts on someone not mentioned all that often. Once you reach biography for adolescents, there is competition for the fact-seeker. A simple, short handbook can often give you the information very concisely and quickly.

The Internet of course has become a font of all knowledge but may not save one time over just checking an index.

Landmark Books (2002) has a lavishly illustrated history Liberty!: How the Revolutionary War Began (for adolescents) listing all the familiar reasons quite completely. However, it has no real advantage over a simple handbook or encyclopedia, designed for general reference.

I read an adolescent biography on Daniel Boone (subject of a forthcoming post) completely and I found that certain portions were very violent. It brings up again a perennial dilemma, how much violence should be included in items marketed to young people? The times of Daniel Boone were incredibly violent. Those who attempted to settle in frontier Kentucky lived in constant danger from many sources. This Boone biography stresses this very effectively.

I’m glad juvenile biography titles are available. I hope more personalities from the American Revolutionary War will be featured. I’ll look forward to reading their titles, too. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Sterling Point Books | Landmark Books

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1 comment: Editor said...

I hope lots of kids read about the American Revolution, especially if they don't live in one of the original thirteen states and therefore have fewer chances to learn about this era.

But what they miss, they can always learn later in life from history according to Hollywood -- and get a hopefully straighter scoop from the History Channel and PBS!