Skip to main content

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells, 256 pp RL MIDDLE GRADE

Although it is two-hundred and fifty-six pages long, Rosemary Wells' Civil War story Red Moon at Sharpsburg reads more like an epic saga along the lines of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in terms of the multitude of experiences the main character lives through over the course of the fours years during which the story takes place. Wells' main character and narrator, India Moody definitely fits the mold of the headstrong, sometimes willful, self-determined historical heroine who often rescues the men and boys of the story. She is also reminiscent of the subject of Wells' book Mary on Horseback. The real life Mary Breckenridge was a brave, headstrong woman who established health care for the poorest of the poor living in the Appalachian Mountains with her Frontier Nursing Service, founded in 1925.

A bit of back story at beginning of the novel reveals the incident that ties the main families in the story, the wealthy Trimbles, the hard working Moodys and Micah and Esther, black slaves freed by the Trimbles. From that point on their lives and fates are intertwined as they try to survive the war that rages around them in Berryville, Virginia. Beginning in 1861 when India is twelve, we watch as all the young men, and even the older, including India's father, join the army. As the days then years pass the Moodys and Trimbles suffer grave losses and severe living conditions. As the hardships increase, Wells' descriptions become more intense and vivid. You feel like you can see and smell everything that India experiences right along with her, from the stink of the unwashed soldiers to the chemical odor of the experiments she observes Emory Trimble conduct. Early on, India's dearest friend Julia and her wealthy Quaker parents move to Ohio to get out of the way of the destruction that is surely on its way. India misses Julia dearly, even though they are opposites, India being very studious and reading novels like Charles Dickens' Great Expectations outside of school for extra work and Julia loving clothes and boys, she considers traveling with Julia to her relative's home. However, her sense of responsibility to her mother, father, grandfather and baby brother is strong, especially after her father leaves to work in the ambulance corp. India manages to resist the knowledge, provided by Julia who now has a brother studying law there, that Oberlin College admits women and has a work study program that would allow India to pay for her tuition, but her desire to go there remains even during her darkest days.

India does get to spend time at Longmarsh, the Trimble's estate, when, very early on in the war, the town's teacher enlists and is killed. Emory, the youngest of the three Trimble sons, is asthmatic and cannot serve in the army and has been away at University studying medicine. He tutors India in the glass greenhouse, built to ease his breathing, that has become his laboratory for the study of chemistry and biology, particularly the causes of infection. Ready to teach India "scriptures, household economics, handwriting, declamation," as her mother insist, she instead proves to be insatiably curious about and adept at learning the sciences that Emory is studying. Gradually, India becomes indispensable to Emory, helping with his research and transcribing his notes. Through her friendship with Emory and his with a visiting German doctor, the Europeans notably ahead in the study of medicine and infection, specifically discovering this crazy thing called "bacteria." Southerners seem unwilling to entertain the idea that this invisible thing can make them sick and the town doctor, in a very medieval fashion, continues to suggest bleedings, leeches, maggots and other seemingly barbaric cures while refusing to acknowledge that the camp fever that many of the Confederate soldiers, including India's father, are suffering from could be avoided if the soldiers camped up river from their horses. Even the Northern medics seem to have better instruments and supplies while the Rebels end up seeming pigheaded and prideful. India's world continues to spiral downward until she and Micah and Ester discover a Northern soldier with a leg amputated at the hip. Their willingness, really Micah and Esther's insistence, that they nurse him back to health proves to be the turning point in India's life. While this act puts the three in grave danger, it also eventually allows them to head north to safety and reunion with loved ones.

The battlefield descriptions are descriptively blunt, but never gratuitous. Well's copiously researched novel, research that inspired her to write the gem, Lincoln and His Boys, is evident in her writing. When India travels to Antietam to take medicine to her sick father who has been forced back into service, she encounter spectators on a ridge watching the fight, garden chairs, binoculars and all. She also sees the thousands of fallen men, dead on the battlefield and hears of how the river ran red with blood at the height of the battle. Wells' doesn't pick sides, either. She is equal in her depictions of Norther and Southern cruelty and brutality.

Readers who enjoyed this book might also like this other story about a young woman determined to study medicine:

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers remains the most read post on my blog since I wrote it in 2012. Because of this, I have cleaned up this post, tightened the writing and added in any pertinent information that has come about since it originally ran. When I first started in August of 2008, I was scrambling for content, finding my purpose and my voice and not always doing my best writing. How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers was one of the first articles I wrote and, as a bookseller and a book reviewer, and now as an elementary school librarian where I have gone from working with kids reading well beyond their grade level to kids reading well below, this philosophy remains my organizing principle and central focus when reading and recommending books to parents and children. 

In the interest of my mission and the attention this article continues to receive, I have updated and expanded this article and included a guide to using …

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…