Bull Run is everything about history that a text book cannot provide. Sure, it is important to know dates and vocabulary. But it is equally important to understand what war is really about. A text book doesn’t even touch the depth of a person’s thoughts, their true experiences, and the emotional ramifications after participating in such an event.
Paul Fleischman is anything but ordinary. He is an extraordinary author who recaptures the accounts at the Battle of Bull Run through sixteen different characters, making each person’s point of view come alive. Eight are southerners and eight are northerners. There is diversity among these fictional characters as well. They range from free to slaves, black and white, young and old, educated and uneducated all of which are a part of our history. Fleischman portrays realistic people trying to make sense of their time. Fighting for a cause.
I have recently read Seedfolks by Fleischman and recognized the format of the text. I was anticipating that each vignette was an isolated account, only to find out that these characters would surface again to continue their account of this time in history. I then became more in tune with the illustrations provided by David Frampton. He used wood cuts to create a stamp like image of each character. These illustrations were symbolic of each character with their initials engraved in the block as well. These pictures helped me remember the characters and their significance in the story.
The significance of this book lies with Fleischman’s ability to create characters that we care about or sympathize with. With a page and a half we are emotionally attached to Lily Malloy and her siblings who are abused. “Father was a grim-faced Scot and a great believer in switching.” Gideon Adams, an African American, whose skin was light. We become captivated in his bravery to fight for freedom and the only way he could join the cause was to pretend he was someone he was not, a white man. “I left in a daze, glancing at the white men around me, who thought me one of them. The dread of discovery streaked through my veins.” Toby Boyce, the eleven year old who would have done anything to kill a Yankee. As the battle comes to an end, Toby is given an opportunity to kill a Yankee. A man yells out to him. “I turned and saw a man who’d no body to speak of below his waist. “Shoot me,” he said.” “But instead I ran, dodging dead bodies, ran back through the Southern men, past the wagons, past the doctors, and kept on running toward Georgia and Grandpap.”
We all know how emotions can affect our memories. We can all recall where we were and how we felt when we were attacked on September 11th, because of the raw emotion. In education we keep talking about the depth and breadth needed to educate our children. But why don’t we use literature that lends itself to such depth and breadth? As I reflect on my past education learning about history, it was always from a text book. Needless to say, I was not interested and didn’t enjoy it. I would strongly encourage educators to step outside of the box and use literature that is engaging and rewarding. Use literature that lends itself to conversation that allows us to dig deeper and have a better understanding about what really happened and why.
Fleischman includes a map at the beginning of the book showing the Union States, the Confederate States, and the states that bordered between. There is also a map that illustrates the position, advance, and retreat of the troops on the morning and afternoon of July 21, 1861. In addition, he includes a note at the end. The characters in this book are all fictional except for General McDowell. However, all the background information is factual. There is a list of the character’s names with the pages in which they speak. This was provided for those who would like to stage the work or perform this work as reader’s theatre.