Book Review: On the Trail of John Brown's Body

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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The second in Alan N. Kay's Young Heroes of History series, On the Trail of John Brown's Body, is every bit as good as the first.

Whereas that book juxtaposed the plight of a slave family and a northern family filled with abolitionists and sympathetics, this book follows the adventures of two boys and their fathers as they journey to the Kansas Territory in the days when John Brown cast the longest shadow in the land.

The U.S. Marines storming the engine house in Harpers Ferry, Va., which was being held by John Brown.

David and George, two of the young heroes from the first book, are the main characters here as well, along with their fathers. They have typical frontier adventures, but always in the background (and often in the foreground) is the specter of war, brought on by the increasingly violent actions of abolitionists like David's father.

The arrival of the boys in "Bleeding Kansas" brings that state's bloody conflict into sharp focus. And by having David's father, John, be a part of John Brown's brigade, the author gives us an up-close glimpse of the passion (and, some will say, madness) of Brown himself.

This book succeeds the most by having the reader follow the typical adventures of young boys (playing baseball, getting into fights, doing odd jobs for spending money) while at the same reminding that reader that the setting for these typical adventures is Civil War-era America. To his credit, Alan Kay succeeds at both.

As with the first book in this series, I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent portrayal of young people in the 19th Century.

And check out the website for the series.

Graphics courtesy of White Mane Kids

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