Monday 4 July 2011

Children of the Revolution

Well, as usual I seem to have left it a while before blogging, but I have sat down and spoken sternly to myself. It is no good, I said, sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You may not have a job, but you enjoy writing - so get on with it: write something! So that is what I am doing. And, as  today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day (just!), I have taken that as my inspiration. I admit, I've stolen the idea from Vulpes Libris (one of my favourite bookish sites, you can find them at ( They have taken Independence Day as their theme for the week, staring with a review of 1861:The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart. It may seem an odd link, but the battle for freedom for slaves was very much about liberty and equality and the idealogy laid down in the Declaration of Independence, adopted on that first day of celebrations back in 1776.

Now my view of the Civil War is largely shaped by Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (there's obviously a huge gap in my education here), so I'm sticking with the Revolution and I've picked a childhood favourite: Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes (1891-1967). Set in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, it follows the story of Johnny Tremain, an apprentice silversmith who is forced to find alternative employment after injuring his hand and fetches up in the office of a newspaper supporting the rebel cause. There he learns about life, love and politics, and realises that men must stand up - and even die - for what they believe is right.

Key events, like the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the first battles at Lexington and Concord feature in the book, alongside the everyday details of people's lives, while men like Paul Revere, John Hancock and Sam Adam - the movers and shakers who rewrote history - rub shoulders with apprentices, traders, merchants, servants, socialites and English socialists.

It may be a childen's book, but the author really knew her stuff, and the story is really well-written, with a meticulous attention to historical detail which gives an incredible sense of time and place. And she's equally good at portraying the emotional interplay between characters, using a light but sure touch to explore friendships, jealousies, hopes and fears.

Johnny Tremain, Forbes' only book for young people, was written in 1943 and won a Newbery Medal the following year. My copy, acquired in childhood, dates to 1965 and cost just four shillings and sixpence, in old money.

1 comment:

  1. Do not chagrin your lack of knowledge over our Independence know far more than most Americans. I was a history major at UCLA ~ so this review was of peak interest to me. It sounds like a good read, especially if, as you stated, the author wrote with a "meticulous attention to detail" to historical facts. I have read some fictional history books and the lack of attention to historical facts has turned me off from the book. Great review ~ Thank you!!