Lynn: Don Brown brings a pivotal historical event to life for young readers in Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution (Roaring Brook, 2013). This IS an extraordinary story! I remember studying this in school in Boston and thinking it was pretty cool but it wasn’t till we visited Fort Ticonderoga on a family trip that the enormity of Henry Knox’s effort really struck home. How did he EVER get those cannons down that lake and over those mountains with only horses, oxen and wagons?
Reading this now as an adult, I am even more amazed by what Henry Knox and his determined group achieved. The American patriots were in pretty desperate shape in the winter of 1775. The British occupied Boston and all Washington could do was stare down at them. The British soldiers were the best in the world and Washington didn’t have a single cannon. Benedict Arnold had captured a huge number of cannons from the British but they were over 300 miles away. Tantalizing but simply impossible to bring them that distance. Or was it? Enter Henry Knox, a plump Boston book seller whose only experience with soldiering was through the books in his shop.
Knox was determined and the story of his efforts is awe-inspiring. Not only did they have to drag the cannons 300 miles, it was over steep mountains, through freezing cold and goopy thawing mud. Several cannon sank in the lake and some fell through the ice but Knox retrieved every single one and brought them triumphantly to the hills overlooking Boston harbor 3 months later.
Brown tells the story wonderfully with insertions of humor in both text and illustrations while never losing sight of the hard-ship of the journey and the supreme effort it required. I love the illustrations with the really effective use of panels and uncluttered layout. The use of a wintry palette with brown and grey figures is very effective and the small details enhance the story. The text is simple and straightforward and very appropriate for a young audience but this also makes a terrific addition to units on the Revolution for middle grades. The focus group loved this book and were fascinated by the small map on the verso page which they wanted to compare to our atlas maps.
Cindy: I was supposed to have this post published early this morning, but Book Fair prep kept me from finishing it, so as I write about the perseverance and bravery of a Boston hero, the news is reporting the bombing in Boston today at the Boston Marathon. Our thoughts are with everyone there as they deal with this tragedy.
Unlike Lynn, I do not remember the story of Henry Knox. Besides having missed this in my history background, I missed it a few years ago when Anita Silvey published Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot (Clarion 2010). After being riveted by Dan Brown’s new book, a friend alerted me to Silvey’s version and I hit the public library. Silvey fleshes out the story with some background on Knox and earlier events like the Boston Massacre and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, providing some history to young readers before throwing them into the cannon caper. Knox catered to both the British and the Rebels in his bookshop, eager to discuss military strategy with anyone, but he turned down a post as a British officer, favoring the side of the colonists. The feat of moving cannons 300 plus miles in harsh winter conditions is equally awe-inspiring in Silvey’s hand and the facts are illustrated with vibrant acrylic paintings rendered on wood panels painted by Wendell Minor.
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.6 Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.
Read Brown’s version to the students first and then Silvey’s and have them note the similarities and differences to meet one of the two standards listed above.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
Read one or both books to the students and then have them research Henry Knox and write a short report comparing what they learned in their research with the information presented in the informational picture books.