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Children's LiteratureThis book recounts a major event of the War of 1812 from the point of view of teenage African American slave Paul Jennings, a personal servant to President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison. The story tells of his experiences from late August to mid-September 1814, climaxing on August 24, when the White House was evacuated and the British set fire to the city of Washington. The book does not try to do an overview of the entire war, though it does offer simple background information. Instead, this book brings one important episode vividly to life, in language children can read themselves. The text includes Paul's observations of the White House interior, details of his domestic chores, and eventually descriptions of his efforts and Dolley Madison's efforts to save various items from the house, including the portrait of George Washington and the White House silver. An "Afterword" includes fascinating information about the life of Paul Jennings, a real historical figure who gained his freedom as an adult and wrote a memoir of life with the Madisons. The book combines his account with accounts of the same events recorded by Dolley Madison and another White House servant. Students may be confused at some points by references to the first lady as "Dolley" and "Mrs. Madison" on the same page. An editorial choice was made to start each sentence flush with the page margin instead of using indents and paragraphs; sentences are short and easy to understand. Engaging illustrations dramatize and complement the text. The title is part of the "On My Own" series of history books from this publisher. 2006, Millbrook Press, Ages 6 to 10.
—J. H. Diehl