Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution


Times were hard for the people of colonial Boston in the winter of 1774. Not only had King George III of England closed the Boston harbor to punish all those who spoke against his harsh laws, he had sent thousands of soldiers, led by their commander-in-chief General Thomas Gage, to reinforce his edicts. Large numbers of British soldiers were encamped on the Boston Common, preventing the people of Boston from using their own public space. But at least the king had not closed the schools — young Henry Price and his...

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Times were hard for the people of colonial Boston in the winter of 1774. Not only had King George III of England closed the Boston harbor to punish all those who spoke against his harsh laws, he had sent thousands of soldiers, led by their commander-in-chief General Thomas Gage, to reinforce his edicts. Large numbers of British soldiers were encamped on the Boston Common, preventing the people of Boston from using their own public space. But at least the king had not closed the schools — young Henry Price and his two brothers still had classes every day.
It had snowed hard for three nights, but Henry's ninth birthday was clear, perfect for sled riding. To his delight, despite the hard times, he was given a beautiful new sled made by his father. Excited by the thought of sledding on the Common, which had the best hills in Boston, Henry and his brothers took their sleds to school. Their sister, Kate, met them at lunchtime with corn bread, apple jam, and her own sled. Together, they hurried to the Common — only to find that British troops had put their tents and cooking fires right in the middle of the sled runs. But Henry was determined to try his new sled. Could he find a way?
Based on the local lore of Boston, this tale of a courageous boy gives a rich picture of colonial life at a troubled time.

Henry complains to the royal governor, General Gage, after his plan to sled down the steep hill at Boston Common is thwarted by the masses of British troops camped there.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Borden (Good-bye, Charles Lindbergh) bases her thought-provoking story on Boston folklore. Written in free verse, her lyrical reworking of an alleged incident is set in December 1774, six months after King George III had closed the Boston harbor. Accompanied by his three siblings, narrator Henry Price makes his way to Boston Common on his ninth birthday. Eager to try out his brand-new sled on the steep hill, he finds that soldiers have pitched tents right in the middle of the sled runs. Henry sees General Thomas Gage and concludes that he looks "like a man who would listen,/ a good man,/ a man like my father." When Henry complains to him, the officer praises the child for having "the courage of a good soldier/ as well as the spunk of your local rebels" and instructs his men to allow the children to sled wherever they wish. Though crisply depicting the British soldiers' bright red uniforms, Parker's (The Hatmaker's Sign) characteristically sketchy watercolor art is otherwise too vague to give youngsters a sure sense of the story's era or setting. Fortunately, Borden's own eye for detail compensates--for example, readers learn that the runners of the sled are "slick beef bones"; Henry and his siblings surreptitiously count the kegs of powder and the new sheds on the Common, to pass the information back to their father. A lively historical snippet. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature
This story of nineyearold Henry and his determination to ride his sled down a hill on Boston Common in the winter of 1774 is enriched by remarkable undertones. The colonists suffer hardships brought about by the edicts of King George III and the British soldiers who are sent to enforce them. The colonists' difficulties are clearly drawn, as is the quest for freedom. Nonetheless, the reader is brought to recognize the humanity of the opposition. General Thomas Gage is the leader of the troops camped upon the Common and the colonists are angry that this public area, which once belonged to all the people, was completely taken over by the soldiers. After Henry receives a sled for his birthday, he decides he will face the enemy. When he explains to General Gage that he and friends have always used the Common while playing and wish to use the hills for sledding, the General thinks of his own children and orders his men to clear an area for sledding. The story is based upon Boston folklore and the background and history surrounding the incident are well researched, adding greatly to this enjoyable tale. 2000, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, Ages 9 to 12, $17.00. Reviewer: Carolyn Mott Ford
From The Critics
Fictional siblings Henry, Colin, Blu, and Kate Price go to sled on Boston commons. To their surprise the British redcoats are camping right there! Based on historical events, this story of a courageous boy and the honorable character of a British general will win your family's heart. 2000, Simon & Schuster, $17.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: A. Braga SOURCE: Parent Council Volume 8
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-This story, based on local folklore, takes place in Boston during the harsh winter of 1775. It's Henry's ninth birthday, and he wants to use the new sled that his father has made for him. However, British soldiers camped on the Common have built cook fires right in the middle of the best hill. Henry and his siblings see General Thomas Gage, the royal governor of Boston, speaking with his troops. Noting the man's kind eyes and gentle manner, Henry dares to approach him and asks that the sled run be cleared. Moved by the child's earnest request and by his courage, Gage complies. Later, when the war begins and the general returns to England, Henry watches him leave, knowing that, despite their political differences, Gage is a "good man." This well-told story gives a clear picture of life in pre-Revolutionary Boston, and the changes brought by the blockade of Boston Harbor and the encampment of thousands of "lobster backs." It also shows that one's "enemies" are not necessarily evil simply because their political ideals may differ from one's own. The full- and double-page watercolor paintings create a nice sense of atmosphere and provide a fine backdrop for the action. A helpful author's note provides historical background. Pair this with a version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" to place it in a larger historical context.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689828126
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 515,520
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 640L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Borden graduated from Denison University with a degree in history. She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she also speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. Her books include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Medal, and The A+ Custodian. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you can visit her at

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2001

    The Common Touch

    Sleds on Boston Common makes history come alive by focusing on a fictional group of children who want to go sledding during the tension-filled days just before the start of the American Revolution. The story moves beyond the normal heroism of the patriots and the perfidy of the British to put a warm human face on everyone. Reading this story can be the precursor to a wonderful visit to the Boston Common to locate where the best sled runs might be. It can also help ignite an interest in American history. Henry Price lives in Boston, where his father runs a small toy and map shop. Because of rebellious activities, the port of Boston was closed by the king on June 1, 1774. This hurt commerce and everyone was suffering economically. Despite this, Henry's father had made Henry a new sled for his birthday which fell on December 22, 1774. During the two hour break from school at lunchtime, Henry and his siblings head for the Boston Common with the new sled. They are discouraged to find that thousands of troops are setting up camp there, and the troops block all the best sled runs! What to do? When Henry sees General Thomas Gage, the British Governer of Massachusetts Colony, Henry decides to speak to him. But first, he and his brothers and sister count the troops, horses, and anything else that the patriots want to know. General Gage turns to Henry and says, 'Let this boy have his words.' After listening to Henry, General Gage says, 'I'm a father as well as a soldier for my king . . . .' ' . . . I know my own children would like to sled this hill if there were here.' 'He shook my hand, man to man.' 'My eldest son is named Henry.' In this fictional story, General Gage tells his troops to allow the children to sled, to clear a good run, and to keep the ice in one pond undisturbed for skating. The children were able to return again and again. 'Because General Gage was a man of his word.' The war started in April 1975, and General Gage was ordered to return to England in October 1975. The illustrations in the book build from splashes of watercolors with inked outlines and details. The images are done in kaleidoscopic form that suggests movement by the figures. The author also provides an end note that describes more about the events described here, in order to help create that bridge into interest in American history. The book is also done in blank verse, which gives the style an elegance and crispness that make it a pleasure to read. I suggest that you also read the poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, to your child as a follow-on. If the interest continues to build in your family, there are many fine fictional stories about the early days of the American Revolution that you can also read to and with your child. You should also use this book to reinforce the point that even those who oppose you are usually well-meaning. Have a good run! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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