I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Eleven-year-old Abigail Jane Stewart records the despair and hope of the difficult winter between 1777-1778--when she witnessed George Washington readying his young soldiers on the frozen fields of Valley Forge. (source)
This book was a huge favorite of mine when I was growing up, as were many of the other books in the Dear America series. I think this was the first one that I read and I picked it up in third grade. This series, along with the American Girl series, served as my first introduction to history, which I eventually earned a B.A. in. So, it should come as no surprise that this review will be overwhelmingly positive - this is a favorite of mine and I'm a bit biased.
I re-read this book this week for my Resources for Children class. We were asked to complete a project in which we selected a topic and then chose 3 books about that topic. Each book needed to address a different age group - one for pre-readers, one for beginning readers, and one for middle grade. This is the book that I chose for beginning readers. I was actually going to use Meet Felicity, but Scholastic says that's at a fifth grade reading level, while this one is only at a second grade readers. I want to note that I thoroughly disagree with both of these assessments. I read Meet Felicity as a first grader. While I was further advanced in reading than most of my peers were, in first grade, I was almost definitely not reading at a fifth grade level - and Meet Felicity is also definitely less challenging than The Winter of Red Snow, and far less graphic. I personally think that second grade is too young for The Winter of Red Snow. It discusses war injuries, corporal punishment such as flogging and hanging, and miscarriages, all in a fair amount of detail. I personally believe that such topics are a bit advanced for second grade. I would recommend this book to third through fifth graders - not much of an age difference, but enough that I think it matters. But I digress. The point is, I selected this as my beginning reader book over Meet Felicity simply because I had the data to back that up, even though I disagreed with it.
All of that aside, I think that The Winter of Red Snow does a great job of showing readers some of the strains that war places on community life. Abigail Stewart, the main character, is eleven years old - she's a great narrator for this story, as she's new to the challenges of war, just as most readers of this book would be. Some of her stories are amusing, such as what happens with her sister's bounty coat, while some are heart breaking... there's a great deal of death in this book. None of it touches any of Abigail's loved ones, but they are witness to it, serving as winter hosts to an army encampment, and the strain that this places on their otherwise peaceful community is evident. I can speak from my own experiences as a child and honestly say that this book and many of the others in the Dear America series sweep the reader away to another time and place and really pique the reader's interest in history. For me, this was a stepping stone to other, more advanced historical texts.
I believe that this book, along with the others in the Dear America series, is on its way to becoming a children's literary classic. It offers so much to the reader and it's one that has truly stayed with me for years. If you're someone who's trying to engage your children or students in history, the Dear America series is a fantastic resource. It provides the reader with facts, but it also tells interesting fictional stories that are really great to read. Definitely worth looking into!