Today I have more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor wants to share…
Guest post by Colleen Mondor
My son has nurtured a borderline obsession with the Revolutionary War for several years now (he is eleven) and because of that I am constantly on the alert for unusual books that will pique his ever-growing interest. Timothy Decker’s For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre covers one of the most commonly known aspects of the revolutionary period. There are few Americans who can not recount the events on the street corner in Boston that led to the deaths of five colonists, the trial of British redcoats and the infamous engraving by Paul Revere. The Boston Massacre is one of the key steps on the road to war and while a traditional subject for historians of the period, it is not one that you would expect to receive a unique treatment in a book for children. That is why Decker’s book is so outstanding and one that I just can’t recommend enough.
For Liberty is certainly a picture book—Decker’s evocative pencil drawings fill the pages from nearly corner to corner. But when you refer to a title as a “picture book,” readers immediately fall back on favorite images from the books of their childhood and relegate a title to that category—something to be read to the youngest of children. In the case of For Liberty this likely means readers of a much older age have missed something significant and that is truly a shame.
In the opening pages, Decker lays out the facts leading up to the confrontation, explaining why the colonists were angry with their government and why British soldiers had come to walk the streets of Boston. “By March 5, 1770,” he writes, “it was dangerous to be a soldier in Boston.” He names the specific soldiers involved, and how they came together in the presence of a mob on King Street. The pictures show the anger of the men and boys who were tired of the military presence in their lives and they show the growing uncertainty of the soldiers, no longer certain the civilians would go home. Finally a shot is fired, which “surprised everyone.” The British Captain Preston was struck by a club as he turned to investigate the shot and as he fell all control was lost. More shots were fired and Decker shows Crispus Attucks, the first man to die in the Revolution, struck by a bullet. Preston restored order but the damage was done and in a bare overhead shot, Decker shows the fallen men, spread over the square. The Boston Massacre was over.
In the final pages, For Liberty becomes even more intense. The soldiers were taken into custody, lawyers were hired to prosecute them and John Adams, future president, was chosen to lead the defense. Captain Preston was found innocent, as no one could state he had ordered his troops to fire. In the trial for the soldiers, John Adams was eloquent and determined and Decker uses his words in the text, allowing history to speak far deeper than any modern writer could. He closes with a stirring profile of John Adams who “knew that liberty was precious and required wise, vigilant and reasonable citizens to protect it, even, at times, from the ignorance of one’s own countrymen.” Decker thus reveals John Adams, the president situated between two of Mt Rushmore’s great men, as one of our greatest founding fathers. He made the case before we were America, that the word of law would matter; that power would not usurp truth. He was one of our better angels and in this understated, classy and powerful book, he is given the respect he so richly deserves. For Liberty is not the Boston Massacre story you learned in school, it is far better and utterly unforgettable. Timothy Decker has really done something special with this one and readers, of any age, who come across it are luckier for the experience.
Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments!
- Add For Liberty to your shelf on Goodreads
- For Liberty on Indiebound
Colleen Mondor is the author of The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska. She is also the longtime YA columnist for Bookslut and a reviewer for Booklist.
Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?
Here are the posts in the series so far:
- YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
- YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock Star, First Day on Earth, Frost, and more
- Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
- YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
- YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum
- Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
- Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends Ultraviolet, A Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
- Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
- Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
- Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions