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Rifles for Watie
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Newbery Archive > The Medal Winner from 1958 - Rifles for Watie - D&A December 2018

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Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
Yet another historical fiction. At a glance, it looks short enough and engaging enough.

Not sure how widely available this is. I got my copy from my sons' library in OKC.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
... Which is interesting, as much of the first part of the book takes place right here in Rolla, MO, and we don't have a copy. (Not that there's any sense of place really, though.)

Anyway, Keith's acceptance speech isn't that interesting. He speaks of his background as sports publicity director for U. of OK as not being helpful, but as writing workshops teaching him the strategies of putting together a successful story.

There and in the introduction in the book itself he speaks of all the interviews he did with the aged veterans of the war. So, yes, the details of how the boys dealt with being soldiers, etc., do ring true.

However.
In the introduction he admits that the novel is entirely fiction, and especially that he knows of no record of Stand Watie, the Cherokee slave owner and leader of rebel Indians, attempting to secure repeating rifles.

That's just too much invention for me.

I want to know more about Watie, but not from this novel.
I read to p. 92, the introduction to Watie, and gave up.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
Oh, and in the author's Newbery acceptance speech, he says that he wrote the book for teenagers.

Tbh, I think he also wrote it for the Newbery committee, knowing that he had done research to write good historical fiction about a theater of the war not as thoroughly explored elsewhere and about a brave young man doing a whole coming-of-age thing.


Michael Fitzgerald | 367 comments I'm not sure what the problem is in having fiction in a historical fiction novel. The introduction states that repeating rifles were indeed used in the Civil War (apparently Gettysburg and after). The author has taken that fact and invented a story involving both historical figures and characters of his own that *might* have happened. He hasn't tried to deceive readers, but rather, is forthright about where his fictional story deviates from historical fact.

Certainly, if one wants to learn nothing but the facts about Watie, then a novel is not the place to do it. I hate to think about people whose only knowledge of ancient history is movies like Cleopatra and Troy or who believe that the Von Trapps traveled across the Alps singing Richard Rodgers tunes. But enjoyable and worthwhile films, musicals, and books that are less (sometimes far less) than 100% history can be produced and celebrated. I imagine that some creators of those works have a hope that their fiction will spur some to make further investigations into source material, etc.

I'm just getting started in the book - up to the chapter on Wilson's Creek - and so far it seems fine. There are aspects that seem a bit hackneyed (the bushwackers episode reminds me of both Henty's With Lee in Virginia and of the movie (later musical) Shenandoah, both of which contain similar scenes), but maybe that's because they were fairly common occurrences during the war. Certainly it's a powerful impetus in changing passive bystanders into active participants, which gets the story moving along.

I definitely agree that the soldier characters have verisimilitude, and I could easily imagine Keith developing them from his interviews of veterans. Perhaps someone with more interest than I in Civil War history could delve into Keith's master's thesis (or his papers at U of O) to learn more about this. I'm glad that we have a children's book that brings in first-hand historical research of this nature.


Phil Jensen | 189 comments I loved it. My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This book is definitely a better fit for teens. It gets mentioned alongside Jacob Have I Loved in that regard.

My dad read it and loved it when it came out, and he didn't read a lot of children's books as a child; he mostly went straight to nonfiction history.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
Sorry if I implied that the fictionalization is a problem objectively. I just mean that I, myself, prefer getting history straight-up, and that I think it's important to mention that the title itself refers to a fictionalized event. (Maybe if it were titled "Jeff's War" or something like that I'd object less.)

(Just because I'm hosting this forum doesn't mean I have to read every book!)

Also, I did read other reviews and some folks have a problem with how the non-white characters are portrayed. I'm not in the mood to face that.

If this is the best book a kid can get that gives him a sample of some aspects of the American Civil War, fine, let him read it.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
Ah, Phil, you were one of those who noted elements related to racism. I did hit 'like' on your review when I was deciding whether or not to finish the book. However, you did not talk me into it.


Michael Fitzgerald | 367 comments It's a busy time of the year, but I'm plodding along with this and continuing to enjoy it.

I still find myself comparing it to With Lee in Virginia, with eBook by G.A. Henty, which is much older (1890), but written for the same teenage boy audience. I see parallels in the introduction of a (likely) romantic interest for the hero, the honorable behavior of the protagonist in dealing with the Confederate families, the use of imprisonment/punishment to generate sympathy, etc.

The end-of-chapter teaser has now promised that Jeff will soon see some real battlefield action, so that will make for a change. I don't know how realistic it would be to have someone manage to go on for so long without it, but if one truly desired nothing but realism, the book would probably be only five pages and the main character would be dead at the first charge. I do understand the desire to tell a more involved story, so I'll allow myself to be swept along by the author's narrative.


Michael Fitzgerald | 367 comments OK - finished now. I agree with Phil - this was a great book! It really gets going in the second half. Lots of twist and turns that keep the pages turning.

There are a few plot developments that advance the story and help Keith to impart some history lessons - these could be a bit hard to swallow. But knowing that it's a story for teenagers, I don't think it's necessary to quibble about them - besides, there's a long history of far-fetched things in period novels (Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example) and certainly truth can be stranger than fiction in other cases. We can just accept that through fate/luck/whatever, Jeff has managed to find himself in these predicaments and manages to extricate himself too.

Sometimes the chapter breaks manage to skip over large chunks of time, and there are a few times when you realize that you're not reading about the very next day. I also noted that there are several times when months pass in a single sentence. Interestingly, the end of the war and the assassination of Lincoln are entirely absent. We go from the thick of the campaign straight to June 1865 (it isn't even mentioned that Stand Watie surrendered on June 23 as the last Confederate general and that this was well after Appomattox on April 9). It would probably help readers to have a timeline to which they could refer so as to understand the context.


Kerstin | 39 comments I really enjoyed this book. At first I was a little cautious, war fiction is not my favorite.
Harold Keith is a superb story teller, and the amount of historical detail he put in it is astounding.
Here is my review:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
I'm glad to learn that so many of you appreciated this.


Kerstin | 39 comments Cheryl wrote: "In the introduction he admits that the novel is entirely fiction, and especially that he knows of no record of Stand Watie, the Cherokee slave owner and leader of rebel Indians, attempting to secure repeating rifles."

As I understand it this is the definition of historical fiction. When you go back to Sir Walter Scott and Ivanhoe or Wilhelm Hauff and Lichtenstein, the "inventors" of historical fiction, you see far more license in their narratives than we do in Rifles for Watie.

General Watie, Fort Gibson, the battles mentioned are all historical fact. To take the aspect of smuggling weapons, which always happens in war and ultimately is only a small part of the narrative, doesn't stretch things too far in my estimation.
To me, this wasn't even the most important part, even though in the narrative it leads to the climax. Jeff Bussey's interior life, when he switches from protagonist to narrator, reflecting on what he experiences, is what undergirds the adventure and makes the novel shine.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
You make a good case. But I still balk... at the title, at least. A reader like me will assume that the incident of the title is both true and significant, otherwise why use it as the title?

Call it "A Youth in the War" or "Jeff and the North and the South" or something. (I'm obviously no good at creating titles, but I hope you understand my position.)


message 15: by Manybooks (last edited Dec 22, 2018 11:28AM) (new)

Manybooks | 7703 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "You make a good case. But I still balk... at the title, at least. A reader like me will assume that the incident of the title is both true and significant, otherwise why use it as the title?

Call..."


Have not read this and like you it is the title that I have issues with. Might check if the local library has a copy after Christmas (since so many GR friends seem to have enjoyed it), but if not, I am not interested enough in the story to consider trying to purchase a copy, unless it is really cheap.


Kerstin | 39 comments It is a title that will appeal to boys, as does the story.

Anyway, I borrowed mine through the ebook platform Overdrive. Cloud Library and Open Library have it as well.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) | 6447 comments Mod
Even the best books won't appeal to all.
I do hope more people do read it, as it does seem to have a lot to offer.


message 18: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 189 comments It's kind of in that very good/few children will read it category alongside The Twenty-One Balloons and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.


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