I’m used to reviewing children’s books aimed at the preschool market, typically 30 pages or less. That’s why Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War came as such a surprise and a delight. This picture book features 80-pages full of beautiful artwork, real letters from Civil War soldiers, and lyrics from the songs that divided and united our nation during these dark times. It is also aimed at 3rd-5th grade ages, making it a perfect introduction to the Civil War in a manner that kids will find easy to understand.
I wish Soldier Song had been written when I was a kid. I had an awful time relating to history or understanding its importance in my life and it was always one of my worst subjects. It wasn’t until much later, through film, that I came to understand, appreciate, and relate to major historical events, including the Civil War.
Debbie Levy tells the story of the Civil War, starting with some background on Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. She sets the scene for the war, the harsh conditions the soldiers endured, how young many of them were, and how music was used to lift morale and on either side. In addition to her text, which makes the war easy to understand, she also includes excerpts from real letters from the soldiers to their families.
The illustrations by Gilbert Ford add some colorful imagery to the history. But as the title suggests, the emphasis is on the song’s the soldier’s sing. Throughout the book, lyrical excerpts depict how the North and South united with songs, some of which used the same melody with drastically different lyrics.
You may have noticed, however, that the book’s title is singular and not plural. There is one song in particular that had a very inspiring role in the war, “Home Sweet Home.” The famous story is that the two armies, divided by a river, were united together in a unified rendition of the tune close to war’s end, and how after the war it continued to help unite our wounded country.
At the end of the book, Levy has supplied some additional historical information behind the war, the songs, and even gives references for online resources where kids, parents, or educators can find them. I really hope that this book ends up in the hands of every 3rd-5th grade teacher in the country, as it is a wonderful learning tool and this story is so important.
Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War is an inspiring and creative way to present history to kids in an easy to digest format. As we enter into times that seem designed to divide our country again, this book will become increasingly useful. It proves that while there are many ways we can feel divided, there are some universal truths that will always unite us. I hope that you will help make this book a significant part of the live’s of America’s next great generation.