cover image We Played Marbles

We Played Marbles

Tres Seymour. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30074-9

""We played marbles on our Papaw's farm,/ on the high dirt mounds of old Fort Craig/ left over from the Civil War,/ where hard, round Rebel bullets/ used to pass Union bullets in the air,"" says the narrator of this sophisticated anti-war book. Andreasen's evocative oil paintings convey a series of scenes of two boys playing while images of ghostly Civil War soldiers--like double-exposed negatives--are superimposed over the boys' activities. The narrator rides a pony where ""Colonel Smith fell off his horse,"" and the boys make mud pies where ""men in blue sat in the cold light/ in the morning river fog/ and ate a watchful, worried breakfast/ of old biscuits and warm water."" When Papaw comes out to find the boys ""play[ing] soldiers"" with sticks, he pulls out a round Civil War bullet from his pocket and tells them he knows a better game: ""So we played marbles,"" the narrator says. Andreasen's (Pioneer Girl) remarkable paintings are diffused with scumbled patches of light and haunted with blue-gray apparitions. But in spite of the success of the illustrations and an author's note at the end that explains the battle site, the poem's portentous and pontifical tone often seems as cloudy as the appearance of the mysterious soldiers. While the book may have some appeal to adults or be useful in classes for older children, young readers whose understanding of irony and history is limited will have difficulty comprehending quite literally just what exactly ""old Fort Craig"" is, why the soldiers even appear in the pictures and what the Grandfather's marble game signifies. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)