Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
The Storm Before Atlanta

The Storm Before Atlanta

Spring 2011 Historical Fiction
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Karen Schwabach
ISBN: 978-0-375-85866-6
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Jeremy knows all about the War Between the States from reading the newspapers he sells on the streets of Syracuse, New York. He’s heard the song about the Drummer Boy of Shiloh, dying in glory with all his comrades gathered round him singing hymns. Jeremy thinks he’d make a pretty good drummer boy, and martyr too, so he signs up with the first regiment he can find that will accept his lies about how old he is. In the 107th of New York, Jeremy learns a few new things about the war from his new messmates: the kindly schoolteacher Nicholas, the vulnerable target Dave, the fanatic abolitionist No-Joke, the struggling amputee Seth, and the malicious bullies Lars and Jack. He also learns about the Confederacy from Dulcie, who runs away from her slave mistress to help the Union Army, and from Charlie, a Confederate solider who doesn’t seem to have much investment in winning the war for the South. Jeremy keeps hearing about what it’s like to “see the elephant” and face the horror of war; but he still doesn’t understand why he can’t just die like the Drummer Boy of Shiloh. It’s not until he “sees the elephant” for himself that he is able to find a new goal for his life.

This absorbing novel combines nearly everything a reader seeks from a work of historical fiction. Schwabach incorporates impeccable and detailed research about wartime politics, social divisions in the South and North, medical practice, and military life, and she does so without lectures or clunky exposition. Jeremy’s and Dulcie’s stories remain paramount, and both characters are developed with depth, sympathy, and humor. Before picking up this book, I thought that the Civil War had inspired too many books and movies already to warrant yet another addition to this body of literature. I was wrong. The Storm Before Atlanta deals with this history in a more historically accurate and nuanced way than many adult novels written about the subject, and it also is a wonderful coming-of-age story in its own right. Children, parents, teachers, and Civil War enthusiasts will all benefit from reading this book, and they’ll enjoy every minute of the process.

Naomi Lesley   ©2011 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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Random House Children's Books

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