The Civil War Connections Blog

The Civil War for Kids

I realize now after reviewing what I blogged about last week, that neither one was really a mood enhancing blog post. I know I promised something more uplifting after kicking the week off with Andersonville Prison, but then I cheated and posted some fascinating photos of the battlefield dead. I hope that today’s discussion of children’s literature about the Civil War is a slightly more uplifting look at the Civil War. I stumbled across these books in the Children’s Literature class I’m taking this semester, and immediately thought about doing a blog about them. Usually for this class, I have to read children’s picture books and short novels as homework– a couple weeks ago the assignment was one of the Captain Underpants novels. Luckily for me however, we were allowed to pick the theme of children’s books that we wanted to use for our paper, and I’m going to steer clear of the humor regarding bodily functions. Instead, I’ll be looking at books about the Civil War, specifically Shades of Gray by Caroline Reeder and Hear the Wind Blow by Mary Downing Hahn.

 

"Shades of Gray" by Carolyn Reeder

“Shades of Gray” by Carolyn Reeder

 

Shades of Gray tells the story of a young boy named Will, who has lost his entire family and home as a result of the Civil War. He has been sent to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm, as directed by his mother’s last wishes. His father had fought for the Confederacy, while his uncle had refused to take part fighting for either side of the war. Will had been raised in Winchester, Virginia, and his family had owned three slaves, so coming to live with a family who had avoided the war deeply upset him. He blames the North for the loss of his family, and struggles to adjust to country living and his new home. His entire family had died from the diseases that originated out of the soldiers camps, and his brother had accidentally been shot by Union sentries. Will blames the entire Union Army for the misfortune that had fallen upon him, and it is not until he is living with his uncle that he realizes how the war has affected everyone.

 

"Hear the Wind Blow" by Mary Downing Hahn

“Hear the Wind Blow” by Mary Downing Hahn

 

Hear the Wind Blow is the story of the Magruder children, Haswell and Rachel, as they struggle to survive the war and be reunited with their older brother Avery. Their father, who fought for the Confederacy, is dead, and their mother dies soon after killing a Union officer who found them caring for a wounded soldier. Thirteen-year-old Haswell and seven year old Rachel are left to care for themselves, and travel through Virginia attempting to survive and find their family. Along the way they see how the war has affected everyone within the state, and struggle to make sense of the devastation that they encounter. Haswell is forced to assume the role of the head of the family once his mother dies, and at age thirteen, handles much more than he would have had the war not affected him. He continuously has to do things that scare him and realizes how much he has grown up when he finally finds his brother and sees that his hands are as big as his older brothers.

 

These two books show how the children that they discuss come to terms with the war and the horrible things that they have seen. Both stories focus on the same issues, such as accepting the loss of family, and the need to completely rebuild their lives.  Shades of Gray and Hear the Wind Blow are coming of age stories that deal with the struggle to understand and accept the horrors of war and how it has affected these children. When reading them both, I was surprised by the topics the books discussed when both books have specified age ranges. Hear the Wind Blow was for children ten and up, and Shades of Gray was for children eight and up. Especially Hear the Wind Blow discusses death and violence very openly, going into detail regarding the killing and mutilation of the Confederate they attempted to hide, and the bloody shooting of the Union officer by the children’s mother. Shades of Gray was less violent, but still focused on the grief and loss experienced during the aftermath of the war.

 

Despite the adult themes in the books, I’m excited that there was a Civil War concentration within children’s literature. The Civil War is hugely important to our nation’s history and I think the fact that there is such a widespread concentration of literature discussing it is impressive. Historians and educators are working to teach all age ranges about the Civil War, and utilizing children’s literature is a great way to start getting kids interested in history and the Civil War. Maybe I was just a nerdy child from the start, but I’m pretty sure that I would have read these books as a kid and loved them. I hope other kids read them and get interested in history, and therefore spur on the next generation of history majors and The Mariners’ Museum bloggers.