by Matthew Landis, published 2018
“He wasn’t sure why Ella had lied about texting her mom. All he knew was that she wasn’t the girl he’d thought she was. She was the girl who did magic tricks and listened to Mozart.”
This is a terrific historical fiction children’s book, for both boys and girls, with a special focus on the Civil War. Written by a middle school teacher, it captures the angst and minds of middle school kids, and brings home a powerful lesson. There is a thread of first-romance in the book, but it is not the main focus of the story. The characters are well-developed, and the writing is clear and very accessible to kids.
The main point that this historical fiction children’s book makes cannot be made too often – war, no matter how noble, is not nice. In this story, we find the young boy is enamored of generals, battles, fighting, while his partner on a class project is a girl who recognizes the real heroes: the unknown people who died because of the war, perhaps not even seeing battles. This compelling message is well-told in this children’s book, without every appearing to be pedantic or lecturing. Rather, through self-discovery and honest reflection, all the characters recognize the damaging reality of the Civil War.
One of the best characters is their teacher, who had the presence of mind to put these two children together to work on the project. Along the way, there is also healing of parent-child relationships, which are a main feature of the honest look at the struggles of middle school kids. Children growing up in today’s outrageously busy world can become children who intentionally fail at school, simply to get their parents’ attention.
An excellent 6th and 7th grade book, for ages 11 and up. Good historical fiction, also suitable for a seventh grade classroom.