Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Young adults will experience the impact of the American Civil War from a young Northern girl's perspective when they read My Dear Phebe by Janet Elaine Smith.
Ten-year-old Phebe's family has moved from Pennsylvania to Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. But even living in Upper Michigan can't protect her from the coming Civil War. Her best friend Sarah's father, Caleb Tuttle, is one of the first men to sign up when President Abraham Lincoln calls for volunteers from every state to help preserve the Union.
As Sarah must say goodbye to her father, Phebe's parents agree that she should help the large Tuttle family in Mr. Tuttle's absence, even though Mama and Papa could use her help looking after her sickly baby brother, Benjamin.
Even though Phebe corresponds with Uncle James Irvine who lives in Pennsylvania, the war still seems a bit far away for her. Then one day, a black family arrives at the Tuttle farm via the underground railroad stating that Mr. Tuttle said they could live on the property in the woodshed. As Phebe listens to Grady's stories about living on the plantation down south, the war suddenly becomes all too real. And when tragedy strikes the Irvine family, Phebe is determined to make a difference.
My Dear Phebe is filled with memorable characters: Phebe, Sarah, Sarah's brother Josiah, Grady and his wife Maisie, Mama and Papa Irvine, Uncle James; each character leaves his or her mark and the story could not exist without any of them.
The mixture of historical details and figures with fictional characters and events is very well done, though I feel the book gives the reader the impression that the Civil War was fought over slavery, when it was actually fought to preserve the Union after several southern states seceded.
Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery, but did not wish to interfere with it where it already existed, so I don't know that Grady would see Lincoln as a great President. Lincoln supported resettlement of Negroes outside of America. It was the first generation of freed slaves after the announcement of The Emancipation Proclamation that termed Lincoln, "Father Abraham"--which appears to happen after Grady's introduction into the story.
That aside, I truly enjoyed My Dear Phebe. Not only does it give young readers a chance to relive history, it allows them to think of the challenges that lack of technology presented in the ability to communicate with each other. And the strong message of the importance of family is witnessed throughout. A great bonus comes in the inclusion of actual letters between James Irvine and his niece Phebe.
With the holiday season fast approaching, this would make an excellent gift for the young adult in your family.
Title: My Dea Phebe
Author: Janet Elaine Smith
Publisher: Star Publish LLC
U.S. Price: $11.95