King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution

King GeorgeKing George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution. Written by Steve Sheinkin. Illustrated by Tim Robinson. Square Fish (an imprint of MacMillan Publishers), 2009. 208 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 10 and older. ISBN: 9781596435186.

Sheinkin tells the story of the American Revolution in a fun and funny way. He uses anecdotes and stories that don’t make it into history textbooks, for example he writes about the night Benjamin Franklin and John Adams shared a bed. That night Adams wanted to close the window in the room because he was afraid of catching a cold. Franklin told him to leave the window open or they would suffocate and launched into a lecture about what causes colds, a lecture that soon put Adams to sleep. In that story, Franklin and Adams become real people, not just names to memorize.

The book is made up of short chapters that cut back and forth between battles in the North and battles in the South. The chapters also cut between the political actions of the American Congress and the war. And we see Benjamin Franklin beseeching the French government to enter the war on behalf of the Americans. We also find out that when Franklin arrived in France the British were afraid he would stretch a chain from Calais to Dover and administer an electric shock to Britain that would be strong enough to overturn the island (this anecdote had me laughing out loud).

In the very beginning of the war, at the battle in Lexington, the reader sees both the British commander and the American commander telling their troops not to fire. Yet someone fired. Both sides said it was the other side. “So no one takes credit for ‘the shot heard round the world’ — the first shot of the American Revolution.”  Throughout the book Sheinkin includes both the American and the British perspective in this way.

The irony of the Declaration of Independence declaring all men are free and endowed with unalienable rights, while many of the signers owned slaves, is addressed in a short chapter.

Many, many quotes are used and it’s fun to see who said what.

At the back of the book there is extensive reference material.

The details keep the narrative moving, but by the end of the book I was impressed by my increased understanding of the timeline of the Revolution. Sheinkin is paying attention to the big picture as well as the details.

I had a great time reading this book. I also learned (or maybe re-learned) a great deal about the American Revolution.

Blog Reviews:

Becky’s Book Blog
A Fuse #8 Production
The Literate Mother
Red Hot Eyebrows

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Nonfiction Monday


It’s Nonfiction Monday!


Sophia’s War

Sophias War Sophia’s War by Avi.  Beach Lane Books, 2012.  Publisher recommends for grades 3-7.  336 pages.  ISBN: 9781442414426.

I’d like to write historical fiction about specific events, such as Apollo 13, but I’ve never understood how to fictionalize these events. The closest I’ve gotten is Steve Sheinkin’s nonfiction with a strong narrative line. In this book, Avi follows the same narrative line that Sheinkin follows in The Notorious Benedict Arnold. However, Avi finds two places where the historical record is apparently not clear about why things happened as they did.  Avi inserts his character, Sophia, into both places in an entirely believable way.

Since I have just mentioned The Notorious Benedict Arnold let me say that it can be paired very nicely with Sophia’s War. There is some discrepancy between the two on the historical details, but the details are small and don’t keep the books from going well together.

Sophia and her parents live on the island of Manhattan which, as the story begins in 1776, is occupied by British forces.  Sophia and her parents are Patriots who never talk in public about being Patriots. Sophia’s brother has gone off to fight with the Patriots.  Sophia and her parents are forced to take British officers into their home. The first officer who lives with them is John Andre. The 12-year-old Sophia develops a crush on Andre. The 12-year-old Sophia also finds it necessary to enter two of the many prisons in New York. The conditions are horrific. In 1780 Sophia is 15 and begins a job which puts her in a perfect position to try to thwart the plan John Andre and Benedict Arnold have developed, a plan for Arnold to hand over West Point to the British.

Towards the end of the book, Sophia has grave misgivings about stopping John Andre when it becomes clear that stopping him will mean his death. I find this a bit unbelievable. Sophia cares so deeply about American independence that she has put herself through a physically grueling journey to ensure that the plot against the Patriots is stopped.  Would she really have misgivings because her actions might lead to Andre’s death?

The story is compelling, the second half even more so than the first half.

I suspect the details of the prisons in New York are too grim for third, fourth and fifth graders. Sophia’s War works beautifully in describing the conditions of the time, in creating a strong protagonist, and in telling the story of John Andre and Benedict Arnold.

Blog reviews I Like Big Books; Ms. Yingling Reads;  

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery

The Notorious Benedict ArnoldThe Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin.  Roaring Brook Press, 2010.  Publisher recommends for ages 11-14.  352 pages.  ISBN: 9781596434868.

Benedict Arnold was a traitor. I’ve known this since I was very young. I’m sure there are times when I’ve read other bits and pieces about Arnold, but for me Benedict Arnold has simply been a synonym for the word “traitor”.

Steve Sheinkin’s political/military thriller about Arnold fascinated me. Sheinkin shows Benedict Arnold as a heroic warrior and remarkable military strategist. It seems, though, that if his name were not synonymous with traitor it might be synonymous with the term “loose cannon.”  In the battle of Saratoga, for instance, he fought tirelessly to win the battle, as he knew it had to be won, regardless of the orders of his commanding officer.

Benedict Arnold might also be synonymous with the phrase “doesn’t play well with others.” Those whom he commanded were very loyal. Those on his level or above, with the exception of George Washington, viewed him with frustrated disdain. He was not a political creature; his feelings were hurt and his pride was offended far too easily. But he lived in a political world and the higher he rose in that world the more political he needed to be.

It’s an interesting comment on his strategic skills that, had a couple of things going right that went wrong, his plan against the Colonists might very well have won the war for the British.

John Andre, Arnold’s British contact also had an interesting life during the Revolutionary war.  Sheinkin includes chapters on Andre, a likable sounding officer with too much ambition.

The story moves very quickly. It contains more about the heroics of Arnold than it does about his treachery.

The work is also thoroughly researched. Clearly Sheinkin knows his subject well. However, I think he may step a little far in assuming that he knows Arnold’s motivations. At one point he writes “but therein lies the key to understanding Arnold: he didn’t feel guilty. He was always able to convince himself that what he was doing was right. And if any feelings of remorse popped up, instead of dwelling on them he blended them with anger and spewed them outward at his enemies.”

The last 25 percent of the book contains source notes, quotation notes and an index.

After reading the book, Arnold is no longer simply a synonym for “traitor” in my mind, he is a complex human being with great strengths and, unfortunately, great weaknesses.

Other Blog Reviews:

Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac; Reading Rants!Heavy Medal; Barbara Ann Watson;