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Children's LiteratureEvery since spending a semester studying Reconstruction in a history class years ago I have thought that kids needed more exposure to this pivotal period. I even contributed to that end with my book Robert Smalls: From Slave to Civil War Hero (Dutton), a biography about a black South Carolina congressman during the decade after the Civil War. But now, as then, most of us are more interested in the era's dramatic westward expansion and the excesses of the Gilded Age rather than the persistent problems caused by American slavery. In Cause, Tonya Bolden is attempting to refocus our attention on the complex political history of 1865 to 1877. Many of today's popular histories tend to rely on narrative, but Bolden's book reads like a textbook touching on major events and personalities of that period. The author affects a breezy tone by referring to Fred rather than Frederick Douglass and to Andy rather than Andrew Johnson, and by using colloquial expressions, such as "put the kibosh," "geared up," and "put a monkey wrench into the investigation." This might appeal to kids, which of course is the idea, but it is off putting for this reviewer. Cause is not an engaging narrative, but a dense overview of the Reconstruction period illustrated by great black-and-white illustrations from period periodicals. 2005, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, Ages 10 up.
—Michael L. Cooper