Sunday, July 04, 2010

Free and Independent! Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven

"Shoot him if you must."

Colonel Stockdale's words crashed in my ears. Then I began to think. If the schoolmaster got back to camp and convinced General Washington of his lies, there would be no free and independent states of America. I had to reach Father and General Washington first. But, if I was caught, I would surely die. I tried not to remember how close I had come to death the last time I made that journey.

There is nothing like war to make a boy into a man fast, and when young Daniel Prescott learns that his friend and teacher Master Richardson is a double agent bent on deluding the Patriot army under George Washington into a deadly trap if they attack British-occupied Boston, he understands that there is no one else who can save the Patriot cause.

Daniel is initially wracked with guilt over his failure when recruited by the secret Sons of Liberty to foil a Loyalist plot to set off a riot at a resistance rally led by Dr. Joseph Warren at the Old South Church. The British plan called for a Redcoat ensign to throw an egg at Warren as he spoke, provoking the assembled Sons of Liberty into a riot, which would provide cause for the Redcoats to arrest all of the rebel leaders at the church. Daniel's role was to pretend to trip and knock the critical egg from Ensign Keaton's hand, but when at the last minute Daniel hesitated, Master Richardson shoved him into Keaton, foiling the plot, but leaving Daniel shamed by the knowledge that his courage had failed him.

Serving up mutton and rum at his family tavern where Redcoat Colonel Stockdale and his men are quartered, Daniel is privy to private conversations and secret plans. Hidden in the attic above Stockdale's room, Daniel overhears the full plan to be passed on through Richardson, who, while pretending to spy on the British for Washington, is actually a turncoat agent for the British. Stealing into Stockdale's quarters, Daniel is able to steal maps which document the Redcoats' plans to surround the Patriot army and destroy them if they attack, and he knows that the survival of the Continental forces depends on his getting through enemy lines and delivering his message to Washington.

Laurie Calkhovern's Boys of Wartime: Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776 (Dutton, 2010) takes readers right into the midst of the swirling loyalties of pre-Revolutionary War Boston, as her young hero seems always to be in the right place at a critical moment. Daniel's father is a Patriot, but one who hopes that their resistance will compel the English to recognize the necessity of giving the colonies a full share in their own governance under the Crown. Others, such as Samuel Adams, argue for total independence, while a powerful minority in Boston are loyal to the King and plot and scheme to keep Massachusetts English forever.

Author Calkhoven does justice to the role of these conflicting beliefs as the first days of the war are played out in the Boston Tea Party, the British occupation of Boston, the Battles of Bunker and Breed's Hill, Lexington and Concord, and the finally victory of the Patriots which result in the "evacuation" from Boston by General Howe's forces for the duration of the war. Daniel Prescott is a believable character, torn between his fear of being shot or hanged as a spy, his concern for his family's survival in blockaded Boston, and his worry about his father serving with the Patriot army camped out in Cambridge. Young readers will go with Daniel as he recoils in horror from the sight of the wounded and dying but eventually finds his own courage, knowing that he has a crucial role to play in the future of his homeland.

The author includes a substantial historical appendix which includes historical notes, a section on the role of children in the Revolution, a biographical dictionary of historic persons, an extensive timeline of events from 1764 to 1783, a glossary, and a bibliography of nonfiction sources.

Readers not quite ready to tackle Esther Forbes' classic Johnny Tremain will find this first book in the new Boys of Wartime series a good entre' into the fine literature of America's independence, such as James Lincoln Collier's My Brother Sam Is Dead (Apple Signature), Avi's The Fighting Ground 25th Anniversary Edition, both Newbery-winning novels, and Gregory T. Edgar's popular Patriots, Gone to Meet the British, and Campaign of 1776: The Road to Trenton, all historical novels which place young teen boys in the thick of the action. For girl Patriots, there is Diane Gregory's story of the winter at Valley Forge, Dear America: the Winter of Red Snow.

Happy Independence Day!

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