2.27.2015

Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation's Capital by Tonya Bolden, 96 pp, RL: 4




Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, is set during the days before the American Revolution and is narrated by a thirteen-year-old slave girl. It is one of my favorite historical fiction novels and why I was so excited to read Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation by multi-award winning author Tonya Bolden. For this book, Bolden, who was writing another book when she stumbled upon two pages from Michael Shiner's diary on the Library of Congress's website, shares the events of Shiner's life as recorded in his diary, providing a parallel timeline of events in the growth of the nation's capital.


Michael Shiner was born into slavery in Maryland in 1805 and was brought to Washington D.C. by his owner, Thomas Howard, as a child and leased to the Navy Shipyard. Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation is visually stunning, rich with primary-source documents and archival photos and illustrations. Bolden begins her book in 1814 with British troops marching on the capital, Shiner, who was in the custody of a Mrs. Reid residing on Capitol Hill, looking on. In his diary Shiner, reflecting on the moment, writes that the soldiers were like "flames of fire - all read coats and the stocks of their guns painted red vermillion and the iron work shined like a Spanish dollar."


In 1840 Shiner is free, and he decides to continue living in Washington D.C. despite the laws called "black codes," which are randomly enforced. Explosions are killing workers in the Navy Yard, where he is now an employee rather than a leased slave. He had a family and continues to write about those around him in his diary. In 1880 Shiner succumbed to smallpox and his obituary from the Evening Star newspaper is reprinted in Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation

With pictures, photos, paintings, quotes and more, my review barely does justice to Bolden's book. Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation is sure to draw the attention of any young readers who love great visuals and have a taste for history, and it is definitely a welcome addition to the non-fiction shelves. Be sure not to miss Bolden's any of other books,  but especially Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America, a rags-to-riches story that begins in Indian Territory in 1902, another fascinating examination of the intricacies of American history seen through the lens of one person's life.

Source: Review Copy


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