cover image Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War

Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War

Ann Warren Turner. HarperCollins Publishers, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-027696-6

Turner (Dust for Dinner) takes readers to a Civil War battlefield in this disturbing picture book narrated by an idealistic 13-year-old. The premise is much the same as that of Gary Paulsen's novel Soldier's Heart (reviewed July 20); unfortunately, the lessons may be too complex for a picture book audience, at least in this treatment. The narrator, a farm boy, has liked Lincoln ever since he gave a speech in the boy's town, and sometime after war breaks out (no specific time or place is given) the memory of that encounter inspires him to join up. He also wants to free the slaves. Lying about his age, he is enlisted as a drummer boy, asked to march with the troops and ""raise a tune for our men in battle."" In the heat of bloody confrontation, the boy witnesses the atrocities of war. He holds the hand of a mortally wounded soldier ""until his eyes stopped seeing."" Poetic turns of phrase further describe how grim reality quickly dims a boy's bright-eyed patriotism. But there are problems here. The passage about slavery seems tacked on, the boy never feels fully real and the most interesting information about drummer boys is relegated to an afterword. The ending misfires: the boy bitterly blames Lincoln for making him ""see things no boy should ever see."" Hess's (Hercules: The Man, the Myth, the Hero) atmospheric, dramatic scenes capture period touches as well as the serenity of rural life and the action of combat. But he, too, stumbles: while all of the other scenes are carefully lit and detailed, a view of slave quarters is so muddy and imprecise that a slave woman looks shockingly misshapen and simian. Well intended but off the mark. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)