Seeing the Elephant: A Story of the Civil War
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Seeing the Elephant: A Story of the Civil War

by Ken Stark, Pat Hughes, Ken Stark
     
 

Young Izzie wishes he could join the Union Army with his brothers, Ario and Cal. He wonders what it would be like to "see the elephant"—soldier talk for going into battle for the first time. But it seems the closest Izzie will ever get to battle is visiting wounded soldiers at a Washington, D.C., hospital, where his aunt works as an Army nurse. When Izzie

Overview

Young Izzie wishes he could join the Union Army with his brothers, Ario and Cal. He wonders what it would be like to "see the elephant"—soldier talk for going into battle for the first time. But it seems the closest Izzie will ever get to battle is visiting wounded soldiers at a Washington, D.C., hospital, where his aunt works as an Army nurse. When Izzie meets a wounded Rebel soldier who will soon be sent to prison, he realizes that the war may not be as simple as he once believed, and "seeing the elephant" takes on a whole new meaning.

Based on family history, Pat Hughes's beautifully crafted story is complemented by Ken Stark's exceptional watercolor paintings.

Seeing the Elephant is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Effective . . . This will leave readers with the insight that no side in a conflict has a lock on right or wrong.” —Kirkus Reviews
Children's Literature - Ellen R. Butts
Ten-year-old Israel wished he could join his two older brothers, Ario and Calvin, when they left home to join the Union Army. They were excited about "seeing the elephant," which meant going into battle for the first time. Calvin got typhoid before that happened and was sent home, too ill to fight. However, Ario eventually saw action in many battles. Izzy's Aunt Bell came to visit and took him back to Washington, DC, where she worked as a nurse tending wounded soldiers. It was tedious for the young boy to be confined to the house while his aunt worked. Then one day, Aunt Bell brought him exciting news: they were invited to a reception at the White House. Izzy met Abraham Lincoln and nervously exchanged a few words with the president. Finally, Izzy's aunt allowed him to visit the hospital where she worked; there, he met a wounded rebel soldier who taught him a most important lesson—there are two sides to every war and what is right and what is wrong can often be a complicated issue. The author explains that the story is based on her family's history. Although the book's message rings true and the watercolor illustrations beautifully capture the times, the narration lacks drama and strong characterizations. It is not a compelling read. Reviewer: Ellen R. Butts
School Library Journal

Gr 2-4 This story is based on a phrase frequently found in Civil War correspondence; "seeing the elephant" meant to have experienced combat. Ten-year-old Israel is both jealous of and lonely for his two older brothers who have gone off to fight in the Union army. When his Aunt Bell, a nurse, takes him to a Washington, DC, hospital and introduces him to a captured Confederate soldier, he comes to realize that the issues are not as clear and simple as he had thought, and he writes to his brother: "I didn't go to battle, but I have seen the elephant. He was even bigger than I thought he'd be, and he was the ugliest beast on this earth." As she did in The Breaker Boys (Farrar, 2004), Hughes keeps her focus not on action, but on the impact of historical events on the personal lives and relationships of her characters. Presented in a clear and direct writing style, the story has an emotional power that is similar to that in Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say (Philomel, 1994). Stark's realistic paintings are remarkable both for their artistry and their meticulous attention to historical accuracy. For example, the Capitol dome is shown as being only partially constructed. An author's note provides background information. This book deserves a place in most collections.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ

Kirkus Reviews
In a tale loosely based on fact, a Pennsylvania lad's attitude toward war is transformed when he sees some of its effects. Israel chafes at being left behind when his two big brothers march off "to see the elephant"-a contemporary metaphor for battle-and "teach the Rebels to behave." Then one brother comes back with a wasted body and a once-sunny nature gone dark and angry after two bouts with typhoid. Later the enemy acquires a face when, after a brief meeting with President Lincoln, Izzy talks to a dying prisoner in a Washington hospital. Faces in Stark's paintings are stiff, but his scenes are rich in period detail and capture the general look of both interiors and of streets crowded with soldiers. Interspersing his narrative with letters sent and received, Izzy clearly tracks his change of heart, and in the end fires off a missive to his brother back home announcing that he's seen the elephant, "and he was the ugliest beast on this earth." All the more effective for its restrained tone, this will leave readers with the insight that no side in a conflict has a lock on right or wrong. (afterword) (Picture book. 8-10)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374380243
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
09/18/2007
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
40
Product dimensions:
8.83(w) x 11.23(h) x 0.47(d)
Lexile:
590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

PAT HUGHES is the author of two historical novels. She lives outside Philadelphia.

KEN STARK has written and/or illustrated three previous picture books. He lives in southwestern Wisconsin.

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