• Happy birthday Constance C. Greene (Beat the Turtle Drum) and Lillian Morrison (Yours Till Niagara Falls).
  • It’s the birth date of Enid Bagnold (1889–1981), National Velvet.
  • Also born on this day were President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Isaac Merrit Singer (1811–1875) who invented first practical home sewing machine.
  • The word "jazz" appears in Variety magazine, in 1916, the first published reference to this uniquely American music. Read Jazz by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt and R. G. Roth, and Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo and Diane Dillon.

October has been designated Reading Group Month by the Women’s National Book Association. All kinds of reading groups have become popular over the last couple of decades: teen book groups, mother and daughter groups, parents and children groups.

An ideal pick for book groups and classroom discussions is our book of the day: My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. First published in 1974, the book was released after the war in Vietnam and two years before the Bicentennial of the Revolutionary War. Unlike Forbes’s Johnny Tremain the book might best be described as an antiwar Revolutionary War book. In fact, until the publication of M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, I always considered My Brother Sam Is Dead the darkest Revolutionary War novel in the children’s literature canon.

Narrated by Tim Meeker, the novel, set in Redding, Connecticut, describes the effect of the war on a typical family in a small, New England community. Right after the skirmish at Lexington and Concord, Sam Meeker leaves Yale and marches to fight with the Patriots. But his father, who owns a tavern, considers himself a Tory, as do many others in Redding, and argues with Sam before he goes off to join the battle. Because Sam needs a gun, he steals one from the house—and in doing so takes the family’s only means of protection.

Tim has always idolized his older brother, and now he must live with his father’s anger and the uncertainty of what will happen to his hero. Based on superb historical research, this Newbery Honor Book shows the terrible price that families paid during the war. Largely focusing on Connecticut’s role in the Revolution, the book contains some very compelling scenes when Tim and his father travel through Westchester County in New York—a lawless area where Patriots and Tories formed renegade groups and attacked those they believe to be on the other side. The hunger, the shifting positions of neighbors, and the brutality of both the British and the Americans toward average citizens gets full play in the book. Even more important, the novel shows that the American Revolution was the first Civil War in this country. For many readers, this revelation will be one they did not encounter in history text books.

For those who dislike unhappy endings, the title alone should tell you all you need to know. In an ironic twist, Mr. Meeker actually dies while in custody of the British, and Sam is killed by the Patriots for a crime he did not commit. Fortunately the narrator Tim, who readers have grown to care for, lives and thrives in the new country—one born out of violence and bloodshed.

Riveting storytelling and a powerful commentary on war help make My Brother Sam Is Dead ideal for group discussions. For almost forty years it has reminded its readers of the brutality of war, any war.

Here’s a passage from My Brother Sam Is Dead:

We reached Ridgebury around lunchtime. We didn’t stop to eat, but chewed on some biscuits and drank some beer for thirst as we walked along. We couldn’t have a conversation, really: the cattle made too much noise as they tromped along mooing, and we had to shout to hear each other. And that was why we didn’t hear the men riding up on us until they came in sight over a little hill in front of us.

There were six of them, and they were carrying weapons—mostly old muskets, but one or two of them had swords and pistols. They were dressed in ordinary clothing—brown shirts and trousers and muddy boots. As they came toward us, I began to turn the oxen to the side of the road so they could pass. But they didn’t go on by. They charged up to us, surrounded us, and stopped. I knew they were cow-boys. I pulled the wagon’s long brake lever and whoa-ed the oxen. The cattle stopped going forward and began milling around. I turned and looked back at Father.


Originally posted October 27, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Family, History, Newbery, Revolutionary War
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for My Brother Sam Is Dead
One year ago: Bats at the Ballgame


  1. McCourt says:

    I have not read this book or The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing yet – will have to add both to my list. Happy Birthday to the almanac! I look forward to it every day. Thank you!

  2. Happy birthday to the Almanac from me as well!

    I am looking forward to Year 2 !!!

    Thank you Anita for your selfless work. One entry for every day – incredible.

    Read Aloud Dad

  3. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad:
    Thank you for all your great posts this year. Not only I, but many of my readers, have loved what you’ve had to say.

  4. Arita says:

    When my nephew was in the fifth grade, his teacher read MY BROTHER SAM is DEAD to his class. DJ(39, now married and father of 3) gave me a copy of MBSID—with a personal message written by him—for me to read to my class. Every year I read MBSID to my class when we were studying the Northeast in Social Studies. At the end of the year when my class “reviewed” the year spent with me, many students mentioned this book as one of their favorites!

    The summer following DJ’s hearing MBSID, we took a trip east. DJ wondered if there was some way we could find the tavern/house where this story took place. We did! The owner was washing her windows and told us to go on in and look around as much as we wanted. There was the fireplace with the gun hanging in place. A framed newspaper article concerning MBSID was hanging to the side of the fireplace.

    After touring the tavern/house she told us she was a second grade teacher, married, with 2 sons. Some days she would come home and feel a presence in the house, Sometimes she would be missing a scarf or a slip. They had the house checked and found there was a female ghost living there. She was a former owner who had experienced the death of her son when they lived there. She was so grief strickened that she had hanged herself from the tree at the back of the house. That was the ghost of this house. You can imagine how the students “hung” on every word of that story. Plus I had slides — that dates me (*-*) — of the area to share with my class.

    Across the street was the church. The weathervane was missing a part, believed to have been shot off during the war.

    As you can tell, the ripples spread from one teacher reading MBSID to a class, impressed my nephew, who passed it on to me, that ended up being read to many classes. When we share a book, we never know the impact!!!!

    Thanks, Anita, for bringing these memories back to me. Sure do enjoy this site!!!!

  5. Anita says:

    Arita: Thank you for this wonderful post. I love being reminded of the actual places that have inspired children’s books. Anita

  6. Whitney says:

    I read this book in middle school and may have cried. It’s the first book that my favorite cousin and I have ever really agreed on-it’s beautiful.

  7. Gabby says:

    This must have been one of the first books I was assigned to read for school, because I can’t remember many others. That’s either a tribute to this book, or an indictment of my memory (or both). But I loved this book. I’m excited for my daughters to pick it up some day.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.