Monday, October 20, 2014

The White House Is Burning!

Breaking News! Great new nonfiction.

In the introduction to her latest work for ages 10-14, author Jane Sutcliffe sets the tone and the sense of urgency:

Had it happened in modern times, it would have been called breaking news. Camera crews in helicopters would have covered it all, live and on the scene.

But the event she’s writing about happened in August 1812, when the young United States was at war with Britain.

The burning of the White House happened before the 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, and YouTube. Yet Sutcliffe makes it seem as though the events are taking place as we read them. 

She combines first-hand accounts from participants in history (from First Lady Dolley Madison to a teenage soldier to a young slave) with maps and prints from the time.

This handsome, thoroughly researched book about a fairly little-known event carries one forward, wanting to read more, even though the outcome is clear. (The British didn’t win. The White House was rebuilt.)

The White House Is Burning (Charlesbridge, 2014) brings to mind James Cross Giblin’s story of Lindbergh’s Trans-Atlantic flight and Jim Murphy’s account of the Chicago Fire. 

I’m placing this title on my shortlist of contenders for the Sibert Medal (the American Library Association’s annual award for excellence in children’s nonfiction) for 2015.