Little known facts of history make great stories, and Kathleen Karr has found one that will appeal to kids. She tells the story of Thaddeus Lowe, a balloonist who founded the Balloon Corps during the Civil War. Her tale is told through the eyes of Ridley, a young orphan boy, who becomes Thaddeus' assistant. Ridley is fictitious, the rest is based on real events. Karr manages to create suspense, reveal a bit of character, and pack a lot of information into her highflying chapter book. The puzzles and activities at the end are an extra bonus.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4Ridley Jones tells of Thaddeus Lowe and his Balloon Corps, which helped the Union during the Civil War. Notes at the back of the book give additional facts about Lowe. An orphan, Ridley doesn't hesitate when Lowe asks him to leave South Carolina and become his assistant. Many adventures follow for the boy, including meeting President Lincoln. Readers will empathize with young Ridley as his self-esteem grows through learning Morse Code and helping in the war effort. The characters speak with just enough of a Southern accent to make them realistic without causing a burden for beginning readers. The black-and-white line drawings work well with the story and give readers a sense of time and place. The book's only unfortunate drawback are the puzzles at the back, which will tempt youngsters to write on the pages. A good introduction to historical fiction for younger students.Linda L. Plevak, Alamo Area Library System, San Antonio, TX
The true story of Thaddeus Lowe, narrated by a fictional South Carolina orphan, Ridley Jones. As Karr (Go West, Young Women!, 1996, etc.) tells it, when Lowe, a 19th-century balloonist, crashes in South Carolina at the beginning of the Civil War, Ridley joins him as his assistant. They make their way north, where Lowe presents the idea of a Balloon Corps to President Lincoln, for spying on enemy positions and movements. After some resistance from military brass, Lowe and Ridley are officially aloft. This breezy entry in the Chapters series will have emerging readers gliding right along. Ridley provides appropriate perspective, and the story—as far as it goes, ending as the Balloon Corps is underway—will have wide appeal; a final note offers no additional information about Lowe's work in the Civil War. Superfluous puzzles and quizzes bring the book to a close, but the tale is exciting without such frills, and sure to pull in readers from both the high and low ends of proficiency.