How I Found the Strong

How I Found the Strong

4.6 3
by Margaret McMullan
     
 

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It is the spring of 1861, and the serenity of Smith County, Mississippi, has been shattered by Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of war on the South. Young and old are taking up arms and marching off to war. But not ten-year-old Frank Russell. Although he is eager to enlist in the Confederate army, he is not allowed. He is too young, too skinny, too weak. After all,…  See more details below

Overview

It is the spring of 1861, and the serenity of Smith County, Mississippi, has been shattered by Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of war on the South. Young and old are taking up arms and marching off to war. But not ten-year-old Frank Russell. Although he is eager to enlist in the Confederate army, he is not allowed. He is too young, too skinny, too weak. After all, he’s just “Shanks,” the baby of the Russell family. War has a way of taking things away from a person, mercilessly. And this war takes from Frank a mighty sum. It’s nabbed his Pa and older brother. It’s stolen his grandfather, his grandmother. It has robbed Frank of a simpler way of life, food, his boyhood. And gone are his idealistic dreams of heroic battles and hard-fought victories. Now all that replaces those images are questions: Will I ever see my father and brother again? Why are we fighting this war? Are we fighting for the wrong reasons? Will things ever be the same around here?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"This often gripping first novel set during the Civil War adopts the perspective of a 10-year-old boy who lives on a small farm in rural Mississippi," PW said. Ages 7-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Eleven-year-old Shanks Russell watches in frustration as his father, Jack, and older brother, Henry, depart their tiny Mississippi farm for the battlefields of the Civil War, leaving him behind with his mother, grandparents, and their slave, Buck. Although certain that they march off to victory, Shanks isn't as certain about the cause for which they are fighting. As scant news of the war's progress trickles in, Shanks questions the justice of slavery and the South's justification for it. Circumstances become desperate for the Russells; Grandpa abandons them, and Grandma passes away. His mother gives birth to a baby girl, while their food supply dwindles away. Fortunately, Buck foregoes an opportunity to escape northward, which would have doomed the remaining Russells to starvation. Jack Russell returns from the war as hostility toward Negroes (now freed by the Emancipation Proclamation) escalates, and lynch mobs roam the countryside. Shanks risks his life to defend Buck from a lynch mob, inspiring his father to help Buck, too. How I Found the Strong is a stomach-churning look at life during the Civil War through the eyes of a boy journeying toward manhood. It is a compelling story about a trying time in American history. 2004, Houghton Mifflin Company, 136 pp., Ages young adult.
—Ann Opseth
VOYA
This account of life on a rural Missisippi farm during the Civil War is based on the experience of the author's grandmother's great-uncle. The first-person, present-tense narrative reads as if it were ten-year-old Frank "Shanks" Russell's personal journal. After Pa and Shanks's fourteen-year-old brother, Henry, join the Confederate Army, Shanks, his mother, her parents, and the family slave, Buck, are left to run the farm. Opposed to the fighting, Grandpa heads West on horseback, never to return. Grandma, a bitter old woman, dies, and with the help of a deserter, Ma gives birth to a girl. As Shanks and Buck struggle to provide food, Shanks notices Buck's loyalty, intelligence, and character, and he begins to question the War and slavery. When Pa returns, missing an arm, he too has a different perspective. Henry has died of pneumonia. After witnessing the lynching of a neighbor's slave, Pa and Shanks decide to escort Buck to the Strong River from which Buck can journey North to freedom. The crisply written narrative is full of regional speech and detail, creating a vivid portrait. Shanks's story is simple and straightforward, containing not a whit of self-pity. In the devastating setting, Shanks nonetheless goes through many universal experiences: fearing that he is not good enough in his father's eyes, feeling a simultaneous attraction and awkwardness with girls, developing strong loyalties to family and friends, and questioning the status quo. In the epilogue, twenty-year-old Frank is teaching schoolchildren, preparing to marry, and still pondering the War. He mentions the Ku Klux Klan and marvels over new machines called bicycles. Another era has begun, containing promises of bothhorror and wonder. VOYA Codes 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Houghton Mifflin, 144p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Florence H. Munat
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Ten-year-old Shanks's father and brother march off to war, leaving him behind with his grandparents, pregnant mother, and the family slave, Buck. Eventually, the war comes closer to home, and the wounded are treated in an ill-kempt school. Shanks gradually realizes that Buck is very much a human being with the same feelings, strengths, and weaknesses as other people. When it is time for Ma to give birth, a deserter who is passing through delivers the baby, and Shanks changes his mind about what cowardice is. Each passing season draws him closer to manhood and further away from the belief that slavery is right. Finally, Pa returns home, and the boy convinces him that Buck deserves freedom. They help him escape but are caught in a nightmarish battle. Shanks manages to get his wounded father to safety; because of his courage, he is finally called by his given name, Frank. Based on a family manuscript, this novel is well researched and includes many details about life in Civil War Mississippi. There are several realistic and harrowing scenes, as men undergo amputations and a young slave is brutally hung from a tree. An epilogue tells about Frank's later years. Although this coming-of-age story contains many familiar elements, the first-person narrative lends it immediacy.-Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Spring of 1861 in Mississippi, with laurel and Indian pipe blooming in the woods, is "too pretty out for a war." But war comes and takes with it Frank Russell's father and older brother. Left home with women, children, and old men, Frank wishes he were his brother Henry. Growing up, observing the people around him, and losing his grandfather, his grandmother, and others, Frank must find the strength to do the right things-to walk a slave to freedom and to save his father's life. Rooted in family history, McMullan's first work for children is exquisitely written, its elegant prose fully up to portraying both the pastoral beauty of Mississippi and the horrors of war. The short, sometimes graphic story carries layers of meaning, evoking the complicated legacies of the South and the new world coming in the war's terrible wake. Match this with Richard Peck's The River Between Us (2003) for a pair of superb Civil War stories. Unforgettable. (author's note) (Fiction. 10+)
From the Publisher
"McMullen's first work for children is exquisitely written, its elegant prose fully up to portraying both the pastoral beauty of Mississippi and the horrors of war. The short, sometimes graphic story carries layers of meaning, evoking the complicated legacies of the South and the new world coming in the war's terrible wake...Unforgettable." Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Shank's narration is crafted with such delicacy and precision..." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547528717
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
04/22/2004
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
525,895
File size:
78 KB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Margaret McMullan is also the author of the adult novels In My Mother’s House and When Warhol Was Still Alive. Her work has appeared in such publications as Glamour, the Chicago Tribune, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She is a professor and the chair of the English department at the University of Evansville in Indiana.

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How I Found the Strong 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hi I'm a 6th grade student we read this book at are school. We all loved it so much we read it in four days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very interesting. We read it for school and sometimes it was so exciting I couldn't put it down! Other times I fell asleep. Though it was very good, anyway this book makes a great book to read for school.