BILLY AND THE REBEL, by Deborah Hopkinson.


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Ages 7 to 9


Atheneum Books for Young Readers | Simon & Schuster


See also the companion book: From Slave to Soldier






Based on a true Civil War story, this compelling Ready-to-Read title is written from the viewpoint of a boy on a farm near Gettysburg. As the battle comes closer, Papa is hiding in town, and Mama and Billy shelter a young, scared rebel deserter. They call him Cousin. When Mama is away helping the wounded Union soldiers, Cousin saves Billy from an angry, desperate rebel soldier. The spare, simple words tell the home-front story without a big battlefield panorama—just the distant sound of deadly cannon and the fear and anger. Floca's line-and-watercolor illustrations show exhausted soldiers in dirty uniforms and the long lines of defeated men. A final note fills in the history behind this well-told tale of friends and enemies. —Hazel Rochman.


Children's Literature:


This exciting tale, based on a true story, will be popular with beginning readers. Billy lives on a farm near Gettysburg when the northern and southern armies converge for the famous battle. Rebel soldiers raid Billy's farm for food and take everything, and one night a young, scared Confederate deserter knocks on their door and begs for shelter. Mama leaves to doctor Union troops, and Billy and the young rebel, whom they call Cousin, must cope alone. In an act of courage, Cousin saves Billy from an angry rebel soldier as the Confederates retreat. Soft watercolors in browns and umber evoke the heat of that long-ago July battlefield, and charming, old fashioned line drawings effectively convey the different emotions as tensions run high. Simple sentences against an uncluttered background make easy reading for newly minted readers, and a nice mixture of long and short paragraphs with frequent chapter headings help break up the text. An author's note at the end explains the source for the story. A clear simple map in the front helps to establish the geographical setting. This heartwarming tale with themes of friendship and kindness helps define the Civil War in a personal context, and is a good introduction to this time period for young children. —Quinby Frank.


Kirkus Reviews:


In this upper-level Easy Reader, a young Confederate deserter repays with a courageous act the Gettysburg family that shelters him. As the great battle rages nearby, Billy and his mother huddle anxiously in their farmhouse-joined in the night by a trembling young soldier who begs asylum. Dressed in new clothes and warned not to speak lest his accent give him away, the fugitive silently helps when marauding soldiers demand food, then as the defeated southern army retreats, rescues Billy, who recklessly antagonizes a passing horseman. Floca depicts the young folk and the farm, but not the battle itself, in sketchy watercolors; Hopkinson follows up with a note explaining that the episode is based on a true story. The theme of friendship across lines of antagonism will kindle deep responses in more than just students of the Civil War.


School Library Journal:


During the battle of Gettysburg, Billy hears a knock at the door in the middle of the night and finds an unexpected guest. "Cousin" has escaped from the Confederate Army, hungry, tired, and frightened. Seeing that this Rebel soldier is only a boy, Billy's mother takes him in and hides him. This easy-to-read story shows how bravery comes in many shapes. Based on the real William Bayly and his mother, Harriet Hamilton Bayly, it is written as fiction but allows beginning readers and researchers some insight into life during the Civil War. Full-page, full-spread, and spot art, executed mainly in shades of yellow and tan, add detail and expression to this story of courage and an unlikely friendship. —Bethany L. W. Hankinson.