Monday, May 20, 2013

George Washington's Sock's

I am always looking for titles that will engage children in learning more about history and I find titles that can combine fantasy or science fiction with history have a good chance at engaging reluctant readers to at least try reading them. George Washington's Socks (Time Travel Adventures)fills that need.

One challenge with this model is making the story believable. Fantasy requires the reader to suspend disbelief, but some children's fantasy requires children to ignore main parts of the story, to get to the parts of the story that they want to enjoy. In time travel stories, this is often the worst challenge. In this case, the author employs a very old oral tradition of boats disappearing into the mist and travelers being lost in the mists of time. Not only does it attach to a long oral tradition of stories, but the author also ties it the children discovering that there is a history of people disappearing in their town. They discover the answer to the mystery as part of their own time travel adventure. I was impressed with the smoothness of the time travel in this book.

In the author notes, a comment is made that one of the motivations for writing this book is that the author is a pacifist who had a son enamored with GI Joe. She wanted him to understand the realities of war. It states with her research she came away with an understanding of the strength and courage of those who fought. While this book looks like a slightly longer version of a Magic Tree House time travel book, it is a bit more realistic. Two soldiers, one American and one Hessian are killed and the author is graphic in describing some of the issues of dying most students likely don't encounter when thinking of death. If the author notes are accurate, this may have been done to help her son understand the realities of war.

Another strength of the book is it allows children to see a glimpse of life for soldiers on both sides of the war. At one point, the main character Matthew realizes that there is good and bad on both sides. There are no clean wars. As a modern child, he is the eyes for the reader showing them how the soldiers survived and died. As with all time travel stories, there are some stretches of the imagination, but for the most part they are handled well. In places the author does well simplifying complicated political and military situations and in other places, she over simplifies and complicates the story. However, it is the strongest book of this genre I have read. As always I suggest parents preview the book if they have any concerns.

I liked the book. It starts with a realistic premise, boys starting a club and camping out. While not every child has a fascination with American history, I am sure there are lots of kids who do have non-traditional interests who would love to have a group of friends to hang out with and discuss their interests. I like the idea that the book doesn't assume it is weird to have academic interests. I think that aspect could be a draw for some students.

Girls will be less than thrilled that the only female character is a nagging little sister. However, she does end up a hero. Without her help, they might never have made it home. That might excuse her earlier weaker role.

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