JULY 21:

  • It’s the birth date of John Gardner (1933-1982), A Child’s Bestiary.
  • Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), author of the classics The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms, was also born on this day. Read Ernest Hemingway: A Writer’s Life by Catherine Reef and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.
  • On this day in 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon. Read One Giant Leap: The Story of Neil Armstrong by Don Brown, and Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino.
  • In 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, the last volume in the wizard series, goes on sale.
  • It’s National Tug-of-War Day. Read The Great Tug of War by Beverley Naidoo, illustrated by Piet Grobler.

From 2011-2015 the sesquicentennial of the Civil War will be celebrated. Although the war began 150 years ago, so many contemporary issues can be discussed with children using the Civil War as a starting place. So over the next year I will highlight some of the best books about this era for young readers.

July 21 marks the first battle in the war—the South called it the Battle of First Manassas and the North, the First Battle of Bull Run. Picnickers came from Washington, D.C., with hampers of food and champagne to watch the grand spectacle. Untrained Union and Confederate troops experienced brutal conflict for the first time. In 1993 Newbery winner Paul Fleischman published an amazing work of fiction, Bull Run. Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, the story is narrated by sixteen different characters who experience the events that day. Union and Confederate, black and white, male and female, from alternating points of view they reveal their hopes for the battle, and its grim realities. Ideal for Readers’ Theatre, the book works best if read independently by those who know something of Civil War history and the details of the battle. One of Fleischman’s finest pieces of writing, Bull Run is powerful, beautifully crafted, spare, and haunting; it captures how individuals experienced the horrors of the Civil War.

While Fleishman’s Bull Run is best for a more knowledgeable reader, Michael Hempill and Sam Riddleburger’s 2009 book, Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run, is perfect for the average young reader who knows little of the Civil War. I picked this book up recently because I wanted to look at the work of Riddleburger, the nom de plume of Tom Angleberger who wrote The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and found that his earlier book fills a tremendous gap in Civil War literature.

The son of fanatic Civil War reenactors, Stonewall Hinkleman finds himself carted around by his parents to various events. He hates having to wear hot scratchy uniforms and being deprived of contemporary electronic games. At Bull Run, he finds himself transported back to the real battle, where he needs to keep another reenactor from changing history forever. For adults who love Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South or for young readers who are just being introduced to the Civil War, Hemphill and Riddleburger provide a lot of action, excitement, and details of the actual battle. Anyone can come to this book, gain information, and turn the pages breathlessly because they want to find out what happens. The book makes a great introduction to the Civil War for any third through seventh grade child you might be dragging to a Civil War battlefield this summer.

If you haven’t ever gone to see some of the hallowed ground of the Civil War, both books together might convince you that you should. Only then do you truly understand the fragility and the importance of the phrase, “The United States of America.”

Here’s a page from Bull Run by Paul Fleischman:

Colonel Oliver Brattle

The booming jerked me out of sleep, woke the dishes and set them chattering, and sent Clara dashing through the dark to the children. “Must be the Lord comin’!” cried one of the servants. I realized I’d been dreaming of Mexico. Strange.

I lit a candle. The clock read four thirty. All of Charleston seemed to be in the streets. I dressed, stepped out the front door, and was embraced at once by a teary-eyed stranger. “Praise the day!” he shrieked into my face. “they’re firing on Fort Sumter!”

We gathered on Judge Frye’s flat roof. The cannons rattled the very constellations. Shells sailed, their lit fuses tracing caliper-perfect arcs, then exploded. Each illumination of the bay was greeted with appreciative oohs and hurrahs. You’d have thought that the crowds were enjoying a Fourth of July display. Some brought basket of food to the rooftops and raised glasses in toasts to South Carolina, Jefferson Davis, and General Beauregard. I was silent, though I shared their allegiance. I’d fought, however, fourteen years before from Veracruz to Mexico City. I remembered well what shells do to living flesh, and felt in melancholy mood. Amid all the cheering, the Negroes were similarly glum–suspiciously so. If they rejoiced that a war that might break their bonds had begun, they dared let no one discern it. By a bursting shell’s light, I eyed Vernon, my body servant. He caught my glance and the slimmest of smiles fled his lips, like a snake disappearing down a hole.



Originally posted July 21, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Civil War, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Bull Run


  1. Your comments about Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run have grabbed me and I will be ordering it today! One of the most amazing scenes I’ve witnessed was driving in some state I don’t remember which at the moment and coming over a hill to look down a bit and see a live enactment of the Civil War occurring…that massive front of people marching toward us on the side of the road in a field was so surprising I almost had to pinch myself! This book sounds very interesting, thank you!

  2. Tom Angleberger = Sam Riddleburger, huh, who knew?! I’ll have to see if my library has the Stonewall Hinkleman book. I wasn’t aware of it. Thanks. Lisa

  3. joyce says:

    Anita, I read your blog every day and always learn something new and am always inspired. Today your last last sentence “Only then do you truly understand the fragility and the importance of the phrase, “The United States of America.” struck a deep chord and left me a bit teary. I will definitely be checking out your recommendations today and will be passing them on to young patrons of the library where I work. Thank you! Joyce

  4. Anita says:

    Joyce and Lisa: Thanks for being a reader and your post.

    Carol — I appreciate your devotion to this blog — and your comments.

  5. Arita says:

    Yes, it is “Tug-of-War-Day.” When I read your almanac, writing pad beside me, the question is: Which book to read next? With the sweltering heat, give me a great read and some lemonade!
    Great seeing and chatting with you at MAZZA!

  6. Anita says:

    Arita: Wonderful to see you last week. Enjoy that lemonade and stay cool. I myself just picked up Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, as I wanted a good laugh today.

  7. t says:

    Anita, you are such a wonderful writer and I love reading your blog and discovering new books to share with children. Have you read Patricia McKissack’s Away West which takes place at the end of the Civil War?

  8. Anita says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll pick it up.

  9. Matt says:

    I love this book and Paul Fleischman! This books is Vermont Reads book choice for 2012. We will be using the text this year for the first time in my fifth grade classroom. Two years ago, we developed a unit around another one of Fleischman’s novels, Seedfolks. The unit was so popular with kids, and the text was so complex (yet accessible) that we decided to include Bull Run this year as well. Fleischman has an incredible ability to weave a meaningful story through so many distinct voices. They are the perfect texts to study perspective and voice. Truly a unique and powerful author.

  10. Anita says:

    Matt: I’m not surprised about Seedfolks. But I am so happy to hear you will be using Bull Run this year.

  11. this book was sooooooo goood !

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