Title: The Storm Before Atlanta
Author: Karen Schwabach
Genre: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
Age Category: 9 – 12 years
Children’s Book about the Civil War: The Storm Before Atlanta
The Storm Before Atlanta is a children’s book about the Civil War. The book opens in 1863, with the Northern and Southern United States locked in conflict. Eleven year old Jeremy DeGroot is determined to die gloriously for his country as a drummer boy in the Union Army, believing that this will have him immortalized as a hero. After a few long train rides and some quick thinking, Jeremy finds himself marching into battle with the 107th New York Volunteer Infantry, and thinks he’s achieved his life’s ambition. However, Jeremy quickly learns that the real life of a soldier bears little resemblance to the songs of glorious battle and valiant death that originally inspired him.
The Storm Before Atlanta also introduces us to Dulcie, a young escaped slave who is determined to find herself as part of a Union army regiment. In doing this, Dulcie hopes to gain her freedom and eventually locate her mother and father, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Alongside these two protagonists we also meet Charlie, a Confederate soldier who wears the uniform of an enemy, but acts like a friend. But Charlie also carries a closely guarded secret, one that will affect Jeremy and Dulcie profoundly.
Subjective Appeal: Excellent Storytelling, Multifaceted Characters
It was on page 74 that I knew that I was going to like The Storm Before Atlanta. Here, author Karen Schwabach writes: “the different states weren’t too awfully fond of each other – just enough to fight for each other, but not enough to sleep near each other.” This clever, tongue-in cheek observation about human behaviour during wartime is in many ways a microcosm of Schwabach’s storytelling style: astute, playful, and able to bluntly tell the truth without giving everything away. Schwabach has an uncanny ability to state simple truths in ways that are jarring rather than obvious, asking her readers to rethink their assumptions at the same time that Jeremy and Dulcie must question their own.
Having both a male and a female protagonist means that this book is likely to appeal to a wide audience – although we get more of Jeremy’s narrative than we do Dulcie’s, girls will sympathize with Dulcie as a strong and independent-minded young lady at a time when women weren’t supposed to do “much of anything.” Because we get to see things from both Jeremy’s and Dulcie’s perspective, readers are offered differing viewpoints on the same situations. The narrative explicitly points out that there are multiple perspectives to every story; Jeremy himself claims that “if there were a hundred sides to every story, there had to be a thousand sides to every person,” and Schwabach skilfully and subtly highlights many of them. Although Schwabach’s writing is strong, ultimately it is the likeable, sympathetic, and multifaceted characters that carry this story forward.
Developmental Value: Historical Interest, Age-Appropriate Treatment of Children in War
The Storm Before Atlanta is historically based, and Schwabach’s historical notes and sources make clear that she’s done a significant amount of research. The portrayal of war is significant and realistic, although, in keeping with the intended audience, not overly graphic. Schwabach doesn’t shy away from portraying death and cruelty as aspects of war, but the violence she portrays is instructive, as well as significant in terms of the plot. In portraying the lives and perspectives of children in warfare, Schwabach manages a commentary on the effects of war that is both subtle and profound. This story has the potential to promote an awareness of and interest in history through a portrayal of characters who, despite obvious differences in time and place, share many of the same thoughts and feelings as contemporary readers.
In short, I highly recommend The Storm Before Atlanta and encourage you to find it in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through one of the links in this post. For additional recommendations on children’s books about the Civil War, click here.
Disclosure: Review copy received from publisher.
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