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The American Revolution: Our Literary Legacy

The American Revolution: Our Literary Legacy

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“The best stories in the world involve conflict, adventure, danger, great bravery, romance (in the literary sense), catharsis, and redemption.”
“The best stories in the world involve conflict, adventure, danger, great bravery, romance (in the literary sense), catharsis, and redemption.”

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Published by: The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine on May 02, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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The American Revolution: Our Literary Legacy By Rea Berg
In 1943, Esther Forbes was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in history for her work on
Paul Revere and the World He Lived In
. Only the second woman in history to win this distinction, it is ironic that it was not for this achievement that
Forbes became a household name but rather for her children’s novel
 Johnny Tremain
, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1944. While inspirations for works of art are multiple and varied, Cornelia Meigs has noted in her
Critical History of
Children’s Literature
it was Forbes’ work in
Paul Revere
 that acquainted the
author with the ―apprentice boys of Boston and the part they played in the
Revolution. Although they may have changed the tide of events many times, history has paid them neither honor nor blame and they have been lost in the crowd of
ordinary unknown people for whom and by whom wars are fought.‖ 
 Forbes elaborated on this theme in
her 1944 ―Acceptance Paper‖ for the Newbery
Medal when she expressed how the attack on Pearl Harbor forced modern boys to face losses and hard decisions like those confronted by boys in the eighteenth
century: ―When war comes, these boys suddenly are asked
 to play their part as men . . .
today, the boys Johnny’s age are not yet in the armed forces, but many of them
soon will be and many will lose or have lost older brothers. I also wanted to show that these earlier boys were conscious of what they were fighting for and that it was
something which they believed was worth more than their own lives.‖ 
 The force of these inspirations
the archetypal young warrior sacrificing himself for freedom
resulted in Forbes’ Newbery Medal novel
 Johnny Tremain.
 Sixty-eight years after its publication,
 Johnny Tremain
 remains one of the best-loved
children’s books for its simple yet sublime depiction of the quest for liberty. Indeed, as recently as 2005, Myron Levoy, the children’s author and literature critic,
 Johnny Tremain
as ―one of the great children’s novels of all time.‖ 
 Long a staple for middle-elementary students studying American history, the novel explores the issues of the Revolution through the eyes of a star silversmith apprentice who is permanently handicapped by the cruel actions of a fellow apprentice. Not an
endearing character to begin with, Johnny’s resulting fall from power and grace
exposes all the human frailties of loneliness, despair, angst, lost love, and broken dreams
ultimately developing a character that all readers can identify with. Befriended by a kind and generous Son of Liberty, Johnny eventually (but painfully) finds his way back to meaning and purposefulness. All of these important life lessons take place against a backdrop of key historical characters and events during the
American colonies’ struggle for independence.
 America’s Paul Revere
by Esther Forbes draws upon the author’s Pulitzer prize
winning work about the life of America’s most famous silversmith and revolutionary.
eed, it was after Lynd Ward (who ultimately illustrated the children’s version) read Forbes’ work that he approached her with the suggestion that they do a children’s edition.
 America’s Paul Revere
combines the muscular energy of Ward’s
dynamic oil paintin
gs with Forbes’ historically grounded and inspiring text.
The story of Paul Revere actually begins in France, where Revere’s ancestors—
French Huguenots
suffered under the brutal persecution of both church and state. Huguenots were a sect of Protestants who, through the writings of John Calvin, had
come to believe in the primacy of God’s Word, and they had rejected what they
viewed as unscriptural church practices. Ongoing persecution forced many
Huguenots out of France, and Paul Revere’s father settled in
Boston and learned the trade of silversmith. His oldest son was the Paul Revere who became the famous Son of Liberty, exquisite silversmith, soldier, dentist, and lithographer, but most importantly, devoted patriot.
 America’s Paul Revere
 is suitable reading for the middle reader and will acquaint students with the gripping drama of the early days of the
Revolution. Younger readers will enjoy Ted Rand’s beautifully illustrated
Revere’s Ride
 by Longfellow. Lynd Ward also illustrated
 America’s Ethan Alle
 by Stewart Holbrook, which won a Caldecott Honor in 1950. This book relates the history of the intrepid Ethan Allen
and his Green Mountain Boys and the tremendous part they played in the colonies’
struggle for independence. Shortly after the Minutemen fired on the Redcoats at Lexington, Allen and his backwoods troops were given the commission to take Fort Ticonderoga
—a strong British post on Lake Champlain. Allen’s wily and courageous
men had no trouble overpowering the forces there. When the British Lieutenant in charge of Ticonderoga asked by whose authority Allen dared to take the fort, Allen
replied with these immortal words: ―In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!‖ 
Ethan Allen’s passion for liberty, his fearless pursuit of
colonial rights, and the tender devotion and loyalty he inspired in his Green Mountain
Boys is a timeless tale of America’s early years.
The Great Little Madison
 by Jean Fritz explores the life story of the man
considered the ―Father of the Constitution,‖ w
ritten for middle grades and up. Indeed, no other American founder did more to advance and promote the public understanding of a federal republic than James Madison. As Fritz points out, though Madison was small in physical stature, he was a giant of a man when it came to laying a firm foundation for representative government in the new republic. This book won the Boston Horn Book award in the year of its publication. Jean Fritz also penned delightful biographies of a number of other key figures of Americ
a’s early years, particularly for the youngest historian. Parents will find her
works introduce central figures with humor and a keen sense of what children like to know. Look for the following biographies:
Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam
Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?,
 And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? 
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution! 
Can’t You Make Them
Behave, King George? 
, and a number of others. Various artistic masters have lent
their hand to beautifying Fritz’s work, including Trina Schart Hyman, Tomie dePaola,
and Margot Tomes.
Fritz’s latest work (written at the ripe age of 95!) is
 Alexander Hamilton, The Outsider 
. It tells the life story of the man who was responsible for initiating the National Bank and a secure monetary system in this country.
Leo Gurko’s
Tom Paine: Freedom’s
 is a Newbery Honor book of 1958 that is no longer in print but worth locating through a used-book search. A fast-paced biography of the life of the author of
Common Sense
, this work also introduces middle and upper-grade readers to the Enlightenment philosophy that was so fundamental to many of the founders. The story of John and Abigail Adams has received much deserved attention in the
past decade for the critical and seminal role they played in America’s founding. Due

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