Re-enacting turns real

    Stonewall Hinkleman is a typical twelve-year-old boy whose parents are ardent Civil War re-enactors.  This means that every weekend he’s dragged (his word) to another Civil War battle site.  His father reveres an ancestor, Cyrus Hinkleman, who fought and died in the war, despite the fact that, as Stonewall puts it, “He was shot in the butt… Which can only mean one thing.  He was running away when he was shot.”  Dressed in a scratchy wool uniform and dragging a bugle that he barely knows how to play, Stonewall sulks around wishing he could play his Game Boy.

    But when a mysterious sutler lends him a battered bugle, Stonewall puts it to his lips and finds himself back in time at the real Battle of Bull Run, with real soldiers, real guns and real bullets.  The Shakespeare-quoting young soldier he meets turns out to be his ancestor, and he’s far from the coward Stonewall has imagined him to be. Not only that, but a crazy re-enactor who thinks the South should have won shows up back in time, too, and starts doing his best to change history. 

    A fast pace, plenty of action, and snappy dialogue move the story right along.  Despite the abundant humor, the book also deals with racism and history in a way that allows kids to appreciate the complexities of the time. 

[Note: The authors were scheduled to appear at the library on Saturday, February 6, but their visit has been postponed due to snow.  Check KidsPoint soon for the new date.]

In 1988, a farm in southern Pennsylvania hosted the largest number of re-enactors ever gathered in one place as they re-created the Battle of Gettysburg in honor of the 125th anniversary. Neil Johnson was there to take pictures, and his book, “The Battle of Gettysburg,” chronicles each day of the bloody fight.  The participants look appropriately hot, dirty and bloody, while the man who plays Lee bears a remarkable resemblance to the real general.  As Johnson says, “I like to think that if the Civil War photographers had used today’s cameras and film, their photographs of the battle might have looked like these.”

In “You Wouldn’t Want to Be A Civil War Solider!” Thomas Ratliff offers a realistic look at the lives of soldiers in a format that mixes cartoon illustrations with colorful details.  Among the many inconveniences are the lack of baths (except in the summer, when you can jump into a creek), the itchy wool uniforms, and, of course, the chances of dying from disease, more common than death on the battlefield. 

Paul Fleishman’s “Bull Run” retells the story of the Battle through the voices of a doctor, a female slave, an old soldier and a dozen other people from both North and South.  The invented characters reflect historically accurate viewpoints that make the time and place as real as Stonewall Hinkleman’s experiences.  Try this as with kids who are ready for a more serious look at the Civil War.