Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812

Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812
By: Hope Irvin Marston with Burt Phillips
Published by:  CreateSpace; Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-0984993512
Price: $7.95
Ages: 10 and up
Rating:  4 stars
Reviewed by: Wayne S. Walker

Synopsis:  Do you know what a “powder monkey” is?  Could it be a simian that helps your mother to put on her makeup?  No, Rankin McMullin is a powder monkey, a boy who carries gunpowder from the hold to the guns on deck.  It is the fall of 1810, and ten-year-old Rankin, soon to be eleven, lives in Sackets Harbor, NY, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, with his Pa, a farmer, Ma, and older brother Will.  Hearing rumors of a coming war with England, Rankin desperately wants to join the crew of the U. S. Brig Oneida which has been sent to protect Sackets Harbor from an invasion by the British.  His wish is to help fight the British and end the unjust laws which force New York farmers to smuggle their potash across the lake in order to survive, as his father used to do.  Will signs up as an armourer, and Captain Woolsey agrees to take on Rankin as a powder monkey.  The new crew spends a year training and learning the ropes before war is declared against England.  When that finally occurs, will the British attack Sackets Harbor?  If they do, what will happen?  Who will win the battle? 
Overall thoughts: In contrast to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and even World War II, there is very little good children’s literature about the War of 1812.  Although Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812 is a work of fiction with invented dialogue added to dramatize the action, the historical events portrayed and the persons named are real.  The book is made more realistic by the inclusion of obscure, early nineteenth century nautical terms like "binnacle" and "carronade."   A glossary of definitions in the back, an Afterword containing further explanation about the battle, and a time line of historical events, all will increase the educational value of this exciting story.  The First Battle of Sackets Harbor occurred on July 19, 1812.  Youngsters will learn a lot about the background of reasons and events leading up to the war.  Aside from a few common euphemisms and references to rum, I am sorry to report that Will uses some bad language, namely forms of the “d” word a couple of times.  However, if you are looking for a tale of adventure which will bring the War of 1812 to life for middle grade readers through the eyes of a young boy eager to help in the fight, you’ll find it here.

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