Critical Reviews: Off To Fight

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otflargeNormally, I summarize a book and then give the background, but in this case I have to reverse the process. I first heard about the “Young Heroes of History” series in 2007 when a friend sent some information about the books. Then last year, while visiting in Pennsylvania, I picked up #’s 3, 5, and 6. In 1846, three Irish brothers, Robert, Jonathan, and Sean Adams, immigrate to America. Their children and friends are the main characters. In Book One, Send ‘Em South, David, son of Jonathan, finds a fugitive slave girl who has bravely traveled the underground railroad to Boston. Can he save her before the slave catchers get her? In Book Two, On the Trail of John Brown’s Body, David and his cousin George, son of Sean, find clues that lead them to Bleeding Kansas, the mysterious John Brown, and Harper’s Ferry. Can they stop him before the country is torn apart?In Book Three, Off to Fight, George is disgusted with the violence of the John Brown raid. He and his father move to Richmond, VA, where Sean remarries a widow named Sallie with two young children. George adopts the state of Virginia and its cause as his own. Having joined a street gang to find friends and be accepted, he follows them into the Confederate army to fight the Yankees, even though he is only thirteen. Unfortunately, the war does not always go well for George. The rest of the book covers the next year or so of his life as a soldier, during which the South wins a lot of battles but the Northern army is destroying the countryside and starving the people. The story culminates with the Battle of Fredericksburg, during which George is horrified at the destruction and can take little comfort in another Southern victory. Then he finds an injured orphan girl in the woods. What will he do? And what will happen to her?The purpose of the series is to help the reader understand the people of the past by seeing them as people. The books focus on one family and how they are affected by the Civil War. When the family splits in two just like the nation, it allows author Alan N. Kay to look at the war from both sides. Parents may want to know that in addition to some common euphemisms and childish slang (heck, gee, kick butt), there is a little “My God” this and “O Lord” that used as interjections, and the “d” word is used once to describe Yankees, though when George’s father swears it is spelled, “I’ll be d—-d.” Also, a couple of the battle scenes contain detailed descriptions of slaughter, which is why I recommend it for ages thirteen and up. Each story is self-contained and is an exciting adventure all on its own, but it is especially good to read the series in order to see how one book is related to another. The plot is definitely interesting, and the characters are engaging, thus making the history of the Civil War come alive for young readers.  – Wayne S. Walker, The Vine Voice