Monday, June 29, 2015

Newbery Review: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (1958 Medal Winner)




As most of you know, I live in Oklahoma. My family and I were driving in the surrounding region one day, and I suddenly found myself wishing there were more non-cowboy and Indian and non-Dust Bowl historical books based in Oklahoma, Kansas, and the like.

And not long afterward, I finally picked up Rifles for Watie at the library.


Jefferson Davis Bussey, sixteen-year-old and farmer's son, leaves his home in Kansas to join the volunteer Union Army. We follow Jeff through his training, his first whiff of the gunpowder, and his introduction to the beautiful Cherokee (and stubbornly Confederate) girl Lucy. But when an especially assigned mission goes awry, Jeff finds himself stuck among the notorious Stand Watie's Confederate raiding party, masquerading the gray uniform and discovering terrible information: someone from his own Union detachment is smuggling rifles to Watie.

At first, the book is slow-moving for modern eyes, but trust me and read on past the first act. Things quickly pick up from a trudging march into the color and vibrancy of an Oscar-worthy film. The author, Mr. Keith, spent ten years researching for this story, interviewing Civil War veterans and traveling to the places where his characters, both real and fictional, fired upon each other, drank Yankee and Confederate coffee, and bonded in brotherly friendship. We get a detailed tour of the lives of the era's Native Americans, and a glimpse into the lives of African-Americans. We experience the goodness and the wickedness of both armies. There's action and history and comedy and tragedy and even romance. This book is the historical package deal, and one of the most accurate, detailed, and unique pieces of children's fiction that's out there.

There is, of course, bloody war violence, some drunken behavior, abuse toward slaves, and the book's reading level is rather advanced, so it is more of a Young Adult novel than a Middle Grade. But nevertheless it comes highly recommended.



Rating: Five stars

Recommended reading age: clean enough for 12+ but will probably appeal most to 15+

Favorite characters: Jeff, Noah, Lucy

Content for parents: Battle action, civilians are looted, execution is discussed, no language except for a couple instances of the n-word, kissing, bullying, some drunken behavior, some stereotypical dialogue


For more Marvelous Middle Grade Reviews, check out Shannon Messenger's blog here!



12 comments:

  1. One of my favorites that I've recommended to many in my classrooms. Such great story telling. After reading your review I may go back and re-read it myself this summer.

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    1. It's definitely great! Thanks for reading!!

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  2. Teachers still like to recommend this one. I think it's this one that I have to tell students "Once the main characters stops just standing in the field, it's not too bad." Older books have a lot of introspection that we don't find in middle grade as much today!

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    1. This is so true!! You definitely have to get past the first act before it really starts picking up. Thanks for reading!

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  3. I had never heard of this book. I have a grandson who is a real history buff and the Civil War is the period he likes best. I will have to get this for him. I hope I can get him past the slow start. That is so hard for kids these days who are used to "starts with a bang" books. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Hope he enjoys it and thanks for reading!!

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  4. I keep seeing this on "best books" types lists, but I didn't know what it was about. You make it sound wonderful. I love historical fiction, especially when it's really accurate. I'm really impressed by how long it took the author to do his research. I will definitely be checking this one out!

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    1. Hope you enjoy!! :D Thanks for reading!!

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  5. Mr. Keith spent 10 YEARS researching for this book?! That's definitely awesome, and I'm guessing that the final product probably came out pretty well too. Thanks for the recommendation! :-)

    ~Cindy

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    1. Yes!! Isn't that awesome?? Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!!

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  6. This was absolutely my favorite book in sixth grade! I'm so glad to hear you loved it too.

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