FROM SLAVE TO SOLDIER, by Deborah Hopkinson.
Ages 7 to 9
Atheneum Books for Young Readers| Simon & Schuster
See also the companion book: Billy and the Rebel
Johnny loves his Uncle Silas, his mule Nell and the cows he herds back and forth each day. But he does not love being a slave. And when Uncle Silas plants the idea of service in the Union army in Johnny's brain, it's pretty easy for him to join up with Company C as it marches through the Hogatt farm. Adding to the Ready-to-Read early reading series, Hopkinson brings her research and storytelling talents to another little-known chapter in U.S. history for children. Floca's simple, flat watercolors match the straightforward prose, and the blue-washed night scenes match the tension as Johnny performs an act of heroism to save the company. Though the acceptance the white soldiers show to their new recruit seems unreal, a helpful author's note documents the kindness of these particular Union soldiers. Young Civil War buffs will welcome something they can read themselves.
In an incident drawn from a former slave's narrative and carefully fleshed out, young Johnny runs away to join a company of Union soldiers. Taking up an invitation from a passing bluecoat, he joins troops on the march, and is given a job as a mule team driver. After taking a wagonload of provisions by himself over a dangerous bridge, he's even given a uniform of his own. In her afterword, Hopkinson provides background on her source and notes that not all runaways received such a friendly reception. With that information in hand, Johnny's experiences, as well as his newly found love of freedom, will bring the era and people to life for modern young readers—in much the same way as did Hopkinson's Billy and the Rebel (2005). This Ready-to-Read chapter book is illustrated with freely brushed watercolors. —John Peters.
As the subtitle notes in this level 3 book in the "Ready to Read" series, this account is based on a true Civil War story. The opening pages show a map with the free states in one color and the slave states in another. Young Johnny is a slave, living in Tennessee. He is responsible for taking the cows out to pasture and also for delivering water to the men working in the fields. He never gets thanked for his work and is beaten when one of the cows gets away. It is not a happy life. When he is given a chance to join the Union Army and be free, he takes it. This life is all new and strange, but Johnny becomes a helper with the supply wagon. He had plenty of experience with mules back on the plantation. He is called upon to drive a team and a wagon load of food to men who have not eaten all day. He proves to be capable way beyond his years. It is a heartwarming story with watercolor illustrations that strongly support the text. This is a good choice for Black History month or any time of year. —Marilyn Courtot.
School Library Journal:
In simple sentences for those who have just begun to read proficiently, Hopkinson tells the story of a slave boy who runs away to join the Union army. Short chapters and detailed watercolors aid the transition to more difficult text, while an exciting plot based on a true Civil War story keeps readers interested. No fighting is portrayed; the story centers on a harrowing trip Johnny makes to take supplies to a team of soldiers. A worthwhile addition to beginning chapter-book collections. —Anne Knickerbocker.