Monday, April 11, 2011

Bull Run

Written by Paul Fleischman

Woodcuts by David Frampton

For whatever reason, I have never found the Civil War to be exceptionally interesting.  Perhaps it was because the teacher I had the year(s) I learned about it did not tell any good stories and focused on the cold, hard facts—the facts that I also read in the textbook along with a plethora of definitions and descriptions of important people and battles.  

In Paul Fleischman’s, Bull Run, we are given a synopsis of the Battle of Bull Run from sixteen different fictional perspectives.  Eight of characters are from a Northern perspective and eight are from a Southern perspective.  Within these sixteen, we read the perspectives of the rich and poor, the slaves and the free, and young and the old, and those with various jobs within the war.  Finally, history written with stories—this is certainly much more interesting than reading about the battle in a textbook.

As with other Fleischman books I have read, he continues to amaze me with his ability to write across different genres.  Bull Run, a historical fiction novel, incorporates stories that help us see Fleischman’s love for history.  As with in Graven Images, Fleischman is successfully able to write each perspective, or story within the story, in a different voice. 

Although the story was interesting, Fleischman did include sixteen different perspectives in just 102 pages.  Fleischman also wrote from several different perspectives in the short book, Seedfolks, but each person only had one chapter.  If a person was mentioned again throughout the book, it was because Fleischman made connections between characters and tied everyone together through the neighborhood garden.  In Bull Run, Fleischman had short snippits of thought from each perspective and each person had at least three or four different “chapters” in the book.  I preferred the way Flesichman incorporated the characters in Seedfolks because I felt it was easier to make emotional connections and to remember each person. 

Although Frampton incorporated woodcuts at the start of each chapter to signify the perspective that the section was written from, I still found it difficult to keep each character straight.  Fleischman did provide a page in the back of the book that listed each character and their loyalty.  Although this was helpful, I did not feel I should have needed to constantly flip pages in order to remember characters.  It was suggested that this story be performed as Reader’s Theater.  I do think that this would be the best way to read this story.  I think it would be very helpful in fully connecting with and understanding the characters.

In order to fully appreciate this story and understand the value of this book, it is certainly necessary to have specific background knowledge on the Civil War.  I think the information provided in this story is specific to the Civil War and the time period and is not all necessarily relatable to war in general.  For example, in Cynthia Rylant’s, I Had Seen Castles, it did not matter that the story was about World War II.  Any person could gain knowledge from the story regarding different aspects and feelings from war.  In Bull Run, the story would not be as enjoyable if you did not already know information about the Civil War and the time period.

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