Friday, August 9, 2013

Historical Fiction for Middle and High School

I love historical fiction. I have read books from all different places and times, such as the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1483), the Jacobite Rising in Scotland (1745), nineteenth century China, United States Civil War (1861-1865), World War II (1939-1945; from the British perspective), and many others. This is the first time I have read a book set during the French and Indian War (1689-1763).
The Snake Fence
by Janet Kastner Olshewsky

The Snake Fence by Janet Kastner Olshewsky takes place in Pennsylvania and is narrated by a young Quaker boy named Noble. More than anything this book is a coming of age story for Noble and an account of his experiences in helping to bring peace between the Delaware Indians and the British colonies, which concluded on October 26, 1758 by the signing of the Treaty of Easton, but is not mentioned in the book because it ends prior to this time period.

Noble is a sixteen year old boy who has finished an apprenticeship with a carpenter when the story begins. He yearns to be a cabinetmaker, but needs money in order to purchase the tools for this profession. An opportunity arises for Noble to earn money when he sees an advertisement in the paper for volunteers to take supplies to General Braddock at Fort Cumberland. This is when historical information is presented for the first time. Noble sets out and joins the wagon train from Philadelphia to Wills's Creek as advertised by Benjamin Franklin. General Braddock and Mr. Franklin are not the only historical figures to make an appearance in this novel.  Others include the Pemberton family, specifically Israel Pemberton - known as the "King of the Quakers", James and Susannah Wright, and Scarouady - half-king in the Ohio Valley over Iroquois and their allies.

The novel does not end when Noble and the other members of the wagon train arrive at the fort. In fact, this is only the beginning of his journey to manhood. Through the choices he makes on his return home from the fort, Noble begins to establish his own course, not that chosen by his father. In the end it seems appropriate for this young man to have been named for his grandmother's family - Noble - in his deeds and actions. He is certainly a young man with superior character and morals.

One of the characters I was most interested in was John McCowen. He is indeed a real person, as is Noble. I attempted to find out more information about Mr. McCowen because my maiden name is McCown. I was able to find out the McCowen's connected to my family were actually in Tennessee and Kentucky - according to my father who has been doing genealogy for over sixty years. It would have been very ironic had this John McCowen been related to me, but I was still intrigued with him as a character in the book.

The only difficulties some readers may have is in the Quaker "lingo" (as the author states on her website). "By the 18th Century, when The Snake Fence takes place, hardly anyone except Quakers used "thee" and "thy." In fact, if people used those pronouns, others could be pretty sure they were hearing Quakers. Everyone else had gone to "you" and "your."  Now, I don't know if it is because I was born and reared in Texas, but I have never heard the word "mayhap". When I first came across the word, I immediately thought of "perhaps" and learned when looking the word up online that it is indeed "an archaic word for perhaps" according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

I believe this would be an excellent novel for students in middle and high school, especially in the area in which this story takes place. The story provides a wonderful mix of historical events in an easy to read story line. I believe students would not only have a better understanding of history, but also more appreciation for our forefathers if they were to read more books like The Snake Fence. The story provides historical information in a manner that is entertaining and informative to the reader. Like I said at the beginning, I have read a lot of historical fiction. It is one of my favorite genres, however this is the first book I have read about the French and Indian War and I learned a great deal. I'm not sure all readers would research the people and places like I did in order to learn more, but the opportunity is there and so is the historical information.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, the author - Janet Kastner Olshewsky, has provided a complimentary copy of her book for review purposes. My review of this book is in no way influenced by the author and is solely my opinion.

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