From the Publisher
“The succinct and simply written narrative will appeal to reluctant and younger-grade readers while the full-page black-and-white pen-and-ink sketches provide the visual time and epoch setting of the story.” School Library Journal
“A genuine young hero learns the meaning of friendship, loyalty and freedom in this suspenseful Civil War vignette.” Kirkus Reviews
“Sharp historical fiction, adeptly streamlined for reluctant readers.” Publishers Weekly
“This quick and exciting chapter book isn't shy about advancing a moral message but does so with a light touch, allowing Tommy to arrive naturally at his convictions.” Booklist
Woodrow Wilson's boyhood inspired this taut novel set in 1863. Tommy's father, like Wilson's, is the pastor of an Augusta, Ga., church converted to a hospital for Confederate soldiers. In the sobering opening scene, nine-year-old Tommy and his sister watch a wagon roll into town piled with mostly dead soldiers (who "looked like old rags that had been cast aside"). When a book falls off the wagon, Tommy returns it to its owner, Red, a wounded soldier who shares his poetry with him. Piecing together clues, Tommy surmises that Red is a Yankee in disguise, and he agonizes about whether to turn him in. Myers (Cat Diaries) effectively contrasts the glorification of the Civil War at its onset, when soldiers paraded proudly off to battle, and the grim reality two years in. Though the pace is swift from the start, it accelerates in the final sequence, as Tommy helps Red and a slave he's befriended escape to the North. Sharp historical fiction, adeptly streamlined for reluctant readers. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (June)
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
The Augusta, Georgia setting in 1863 for this story captures the essence of the Civil War. Tommy and his little sister Annie are caught up in the midst of the war when wounded soldiers are brought to their town for treatment. When Tommy tries to help one of the wounded, he discovers the man is a Yankee soldier. The intriguing story then begins with Tommy caught in quite a dilemma about whether or not he should tell the Confederate military the soldier's real identity. The full-page black-and-white sketches show the setting and some of the characters in the story. The story addresses the morality of slavery, and shows the value of friendship and loyalty. The "Author's Note" advises that the story is based on boyhood experiences of former President Woodrow Wilson, whose father was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta during the Civil War. The church served as a military hospital during the war. As a child, Woodrow Wilson was called Tommy. After the South's major defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, refugees and injured soldiers did pour into Augusta. It is not clear, however, that Woodrow Wilson ever befriended a Yankee soldier as Tommy does in the novel. Augusta's involvement, however, in the Civil War is portrayed historically. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—A boy and his dog find a wounded soldier's journal as the man is taken to a makeshift Confederate hospital at the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA. When 10-year-old Tommy returns it to its owner, Redmon Porter, the two develop an unlikely relationship. Tommy finds Red likable yet mysterious, especially when he begins to read portions of his journal aloud, which include his poetry with lines like, "I only tell the stars above the longing of my soul/To fight till death in early morn/to make a nation whole." Red's clothes seem oversized, and his silence with everyone except a slave and Tommy is also confusing. Could he be a Yankee soldier or a spy? This adventure combines intrigue with soul-searching moments as Tommy weighs his options against the values of his Christian teachings by his father, the Reverend McKnight. The succinct and simply written narrative will appeal to reluctant and younger-grade readers while the full-page black-and-white pen-and-ink sketches provide the visual time and epoch setting of the story.—Rita Soltan, Youth Services Consultant, West Bloomfield, MI
In October 1863, a 10-year-old minister's son in Augusta, Ga., finds himself at a moral crossroads after secretly befriending a wounded Union soldier.
When an injured, one-armed soldier arrives at the Confederate hospital, Tommy and his greyhound Samson see him drop a book. The soldier, whose name is Red, is grateful when Tommy returns the lost book. Red explains this "commonplace" book is where he records poems and stories, and he reads Tommy his poem about fighting to "make the nation whole," a decidedly un-Confederate view of the war. Red's unusual accent and kind treatment of a slave working in the hospital convince Tommy "there's something different" about this soldier. Tommy confronts Red, who admits he's a Union soldier and believes "men should be free" and "slavery is wrong." Red asks Tommy help him escape to his family in Ohio. The direct third-person narration belies Tommy's huge dilemma. Taught to distrust Yankees as enemies, Tommy will break the law if he fails to report Red, but Red's his friend and he doesn't want to send him to prison camp. Eventually Tommy finds his moral compass and helps Red for all the right reasons. Realistic pencil sketches highlight pivotal scenes.
A genuine young hero learns the meaning of friendship, loyalty and freedom in this suspenseful Civil War vignette. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
The dog’s ears stood straight up. He rushed to the window and barked loudly.
“What’s bothering Samson?” Annie asked, looking up from her book.
Tommy pushed open the second-story window and leaned out. Samson joined him.
“There’s a wagon coming down Telfair Street,” he said. “Samson, what do you think’s in the wagon? Hogs?” Tommy smiled as he imagined the hogs snorting and squealing.
“It’s more likely beans or squash,” Annie said. She tossed her book aside and joined them.
The wagon rolled by, and the awful scene below left them speechless. Instead of colorful vegetables or squealing hogs, the cart overflowed with dirty, bloody Confederate soldiers. They looked like old rags that had been cast aside. A breeze carried the unmistakable stench of sickness and death up to the window.
“Oh, my,” Annie said, covering her nose and mouth.
Samson’s nostrils flared.
“Smells like rotten fish,” Tommy said. “They must be going to our church.”
First Presbyterian Church, where their father was pastor, stood catty-corner to their house. The white picket fence surrounding the church shone in the noonday sun. “I wish they wouldn’t use our church as a hospital,” Annie said.
“It’s still a church,” Tommy said.
“Not with that yellow flag flying out front. Yellow flag means hospital.”
Tommy turned his attention back to the wagon.
“Look, the man on top is missing an arm.”
The one-armed man stared into the sky with a strange blank look on his face. Tommy looked up to see what held the man’s attention. Clouds whirled around like giant balls of white yarn unrolling across a deep blue sky.
“The men aren’t moving,” Annie said.
Tommy and Annie had seen a lot of wounded men coming and going from the railroad depot. Those men were constantly moving, hoping for some relief from their pain. The only movement on this cart was one man’s lifeless leg, which hung off the back, swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a large clock.
“You think they’re dead?” Tommy asked.
“That would explain the smell. I bet they’re on their way to Magnolia Cemetery.”
Tommy pointed. “Look, the one-armed man has something under his arm.”
Annie squinted. “It’s a book—maybe a Bible.”
“Or secret battle plans,” Tommy whispered.
Just then, the small ragged book slipped out from under the man’s arm and landed on the edge of the wagon. The wagon hit a bump, and the book bounced into the middle of Telfair Street.
“He lost his book!” Tommy said.
Annie shrugged. “The man is dead. He won’t miss it.”
The cart slowed. The driver motioned to two soldiers standing in front of the church. They disappeared inside and returned with a stretcher, then carried the one-armed man inside.
“See? He’s not dead,” Tommy said. His voice reflected the pleasure he felt at his small victory over Annie.
“I hate war,” Annie said. “I’m going to the cookhouse to see what’s for lunch. Come on, Samson.”
Samson stared at Annie but did not move.
“Why won’t he come?” she said. “And for that matter, why does he always sleep in your bed? I want him to sleep in mine.”
Annie stared at the unmoving dog. “All right. Stay if you like, but you’re my dog, too.” She left the room.
Tommy stared at the small, dusty book in the middle of the street.
“That book must be special if the soldier carried it through the battlefields all the way to Augusta,” he said to Samson. “If you think we should get the book, then bark.”
“Good boy.” Tommy put his arm around the dog. “I can’t go outside until after lunch. Mother said so. That means if we want the book, it’s up to you to fetch.”
“That’s right. Fetch.”
Samson followed Tommy down the stairs. Tommy opened the front door.
“Fetch the book.”
Samson trotted down the steps and into the street. He picked up the book and returned to Tommy. They hurried to the sitting room, where Tommy inspected the cover.
“There’s no title or author’s name, Samson. Should I open it? I can’t read words very well, but there might be maps inside. I can read a map.”
Samson pulled at Tommy’s arm.
“What’s the matter? You don’t want me to open it?” Tommy stared at the small leather strap that held the book closed. He wanted to tear it open, but something held him back. He rubbed the book as if to bring out its secrets.
“Maybe you’re right,” Tommy said. “This might be important for the war. I should return it to its owner.”
Tommy gazed out the window at First Presbyterian Church. He had gone inside only once since it had become a hospital. The bright, well-kept sanctuary was gone; in its place was a world filled with screams, groans, and pleas for help, and a heavy, overpowering smell of death.
“Samson, I’ll return it. But I’m not going inside the church by myself. You’ll have to go, too.”
At the word “go,” Samson stood.
“Not yet,” Tommy said. “After lunch we’ll find the one-armed man.”
Text copyright © 2011 by Laurie Myers
Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Amy June Bates