"[N]eat, emotive, unvarnished stories...are engaging and inspiring."
— Kirkus Reviews
What better way for young readers to truly understand another era than to spend a day in the life of another child? Like On a Medieval Day and On a Canadian Day before it, On an American Day Volume 1 uses nine extraordinary pieces of historical fiction covering American history from 17501899 to give young readers an intimate look at life in another place and time.
On an American Day Volume 1 begins with the story of Patrick, an Irish-Catholic immigrant seeking relief from religious persecution in Pennsylvania in 1755. From there, readers meet more characters living through historic events like the Revolutionary and Civil wars, and the Johnstown flood; through civil rights milestones like the Emancipation Proclamation; and through national achievements like the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the opening of the Perkins School for the Blind. The book ends at the turn of the 20th century with the founding of Hull House in Chicago.
Through these carefully researched and engaging stories, a complex and fascinating portrait of a nation emerges, told through a child’s everyday life activities. Detailed backgrounder pages accompany each story, using facts, maps, photos, and illustrations to bring readers further into history.
Brief fictional sketches walk readers through 150 years of American history.
Arato takes nine powerful slices of American history—such as Valley Forge, the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Gold Rush, the founding of the Perkins School for the Blind and Berea College, Hull House, the Johnstown Flood—and wraps them in neat, emotive, unvarnished stories that feature a day in the life of a child caught up in the action. Shannon introduces each segment with an atmospheric illustration, Disney-like scene-setters that function as launching pads for the affecting tales. One may be as plain as the miseries of war—"The Union army regrouped at Bull Run under a pall of defeat so thick, it seemed to suck the air from the sky"—while another may take a more psychological air, as one boy hides a gold nugget so his father can't gamble it away. Only rarely does the author let the sheer fervor of the story lead her onto shaky ground: Did the Oneida Nation really consider the Revolutionary War as "our cause," or as a strategic alliance? (She clarifies in a fact-based endnote—one accompanies each chapter—that the Oneidas were ultimately given the raw end of the stick, their treaty lands diminished from 6 million acres to 32 acres.)
Overall, the stories are engaging and inspiring, from the tribulations that came upon Emancipation to the strange new world opened to Chinese workers recruited for the Transcontinental Railroad to the pure brilliance of a school for the blind.(Historical fiction. 9-13)
"A Recipe for Victory"
May 15, 1778
It had been a difficult journey. The soles of Little Fox’s deerskin moccasins were worn thin and her deerskin skirt spattered with mud. She adjusted the sack of corn slung over her shoulder. The long, cold winter had left roads rutted and, in some places, impassable. Along the way they passed supply wagons that had been abandoned by drivers while the food intended for the soldiers had been left to rot. Now the snow was gone and the Earth reborn. Soon the fighting would begin once more. Little Fox shivered. Again she worried. Are we on the right side?
It was fifteen days since the Oneida party of sixty people had set out from her village to meet up with General George Washington at Valley Forge. Chief Shenandoah had organized this expedition when he learned that the general and his army were desperately short of food after a hard winter. The Oneida’s harvest, on the other hand, had been bountiful. Much corn had been dried and stored over the winter in the grain pits dug on the outskirts of their village. Little Fox’s aunt was chosen to come along and teach the soldiers how to use this corn to make soup and bread.
Her aunt was a wise woman indeed and knew the Colonists very well. She spoke their language and was even given an English name by them: Polly Cooper. When she had asked her niece to join her, Little Fox was honored to be part of this expeditionbut she still had her doubts.
“Is that really the camp just over that ridge?” asked Little Fox, exhausted.
“Yes, finally.” Polly sighed and stopped, putting her sack of corn on the ground. She sensed Little Fox’s uneasiness. “And do you still have doubts about our mission?”
“My brother Lone Wolf does not think that General Washington is right to fight the British,” said Little Fox. “The rest of the Iroquois nation agrees with him. Why are we not siding with our own people?”
“Chief Shenandoah believes that the future lies with the Colonists and we should side with them,” said Brown Fox, one of the sixty warriors who had come to carry the several hundred bushels of corn and protect Polly and Little Fox. “He believes the British will be defeated.”
“What if the British win?” asked Little Fox. “Then we will be on the wrong side.”
“My son speaks wisely,” said a warrior standing beside Brown Fox. “The Colonists will win this battle because they are fighting for their freedom.” He held up a hand toughened by many seasons of hard work. “The Oneida believe in their cause.”
“Gray Owl is right,” said Polly.
“But what will happen to us if the British do win?” Little Fox pleaded again.
“We will face that situation if it happens,” said Gray Owl, calmly.
“I have heard that General Washington is a great warrior who will lead his people to victory,” said Polly, trying to comfort Little Fox. “Our corn will help them survive.” She picked up her satchel and began walking. The others followed.
Little Fox respected the wisdom of Polly and Gray Owl. But she also respected her brother, Lone Wolf. He believed in the British. I wish Lone Wolf were with us, she thought. He would be a comfort to me. Or at least someone closer to my age to be with.
“We have arrived,” shouted Gray Owl back to the rear of their group. The men cheered with relief.
The party passed through the sentries and entered the Colonist Army camp. Little Fox’s first impression was of a vast open field with soldiers everywhere. Wood cabins were scattered across the ground, amid a forest of tree stumps. I know where they got the wood for their dwellings, thought Little Fox. She wrinkled her nose.
“I smell it, too,” Polly nodded. She turned to an officer who had come to greet them. “What is that awful smell?”
“That, Ma’am is the smell of five months of unwashed bodies and poor sanitation,” said the officer. “At night, these horrid vapors spread through the camp. They become less noxious during the day, and then at nightfall, they rise again.” He looked at the bags of corn the women carried. “I see you have brought us food. That will help restore health and morale. Maybe you can help us do something about the smell later, too.” He gave her a weary smile.
Little Fox strained to understand him.
“We have two hundred and fifty bushels of corn,” said Polly. “We have already scraped the kernels from the cobs, so they are ready to cook.” Polly answered. “We will teach your men to make corn soup and corn bread.”
“We are grateful for your help.” The officer saluted and walked off.
Now that they were in the camp, Little Fox saw just how bad the soldiers’ condition was. Their uniforms were frayed; their shoes had holes; indeed some men did not have shoes at all. Yet an air of hope pervaded the camp.
“Spring is a powerful tonic,” Polly said, as if reading Little Fox’s mind. She turned as a man in a blue cape and three-cornered hat approached them.
“Thank you for coming.” The man held out his hand. “I am General George Washington. I and my men are indebted to you for your kindness.”
Little Fox looked at the general with interest. He was one of the tallest men she had ever seen. His light brown hair was dusted with white powder and pulled back with a dark ribbon. She had heard talk of this commander who was leading the Continental Army. His people loved him and she could see why. He had a kindly face and seemed genuinely concerned with the fate of his men.
“Please let me know if I can help you in any way.” The general smiled.
As they walked to the storehouse, Little Fox studied the camp. Polly had explained that the General chose this site because it was removed from the British army. Valley Forge was on a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. That made it easy to defend. Maybe so, but over the winter, living conditions had deteriorated. There weren’t enough blankets or medical supplies. The log cabins were cold and drafty. Many of the men were sick.
Conversations in Englishnone of which she could understand bombarded her ears and added to her confusion. What if Polly and I or other Oneida become sick? Can such a worn-out army really defeat the British? Is it possible that
“Little Fox!” Polly stood looking down at her. “Stop dreaming! We must get to work.”
The arrival of the Oneida was greeted with enthusiasm by the soldiers milling about the camp. A number of womenmothers, wives, and sisterswere also there, tending the sick, doing laundry, and helping where they could. Still, there was much to be done.
“Your people have come here before,” said a soldier who was helping Polly and Little Fox store the bushels of corn. He scratched his head. Little Fox squirmed at the thought of the lice that were most likely nesting in his matted hair. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“We are of the Oneida nation.” The Iroquois will not help here because they are siding...
Rona Arato, a former teacher, is an award-winning children’s author with a strong interest in the field of human rights. From 1994 to 1998, she was an interviewer for Survivors of the Shoah, a Steven Spielberg project that recorded the histories of Holocaust survivors. She is the author of Ice Cream Town, Courage and Compassion, and On a Canadian Day, among others. She lives in Toronto.
Ben Shannon's illustrious career extends from magazines and newspapers to advertising and television to books and comics. He has done work for Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, Adidas, American Eagle Outfitters, Motown Records, and DC Comics among others. He lives with his wife and young daughter in Toronto.
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