This well-written, beautifully illustrated picture book shines a light on the role of music during the Civil War, which helps to illuminate the humanity of the soldiers. Snippets of letters home are included in many page spreads, along with color-coded illustrations that help readers keep track of the positions of the troops. Levy includes the names of songs that were used to announce the routines in a military day, as well as songs that each side sang. As the opposing forces camped on either side of the Rappahannock River, the bands played concerts for the soldiers, which often turned into “a battle of the bands.” But one night, someone drummed up the popular song “Home Sweet Home.” This song may be unfamiliar now, but at the time, everyone knew it, and it is central to the plot of the book. Rather than competing, both sides joined in to sing this song.
There are many things to love about this book. It covers a slice of the Civil War that focuses on the Battle of Fredericksburg, but there’s also a time line in the back matter. The musical examples are well-researched, and the illustrator notated the music correctly! This is rare in picture books. In addition, the author provides web addresses where you can listen to the songs mentioned in the book, including historic recordings of “Home Sweet Home.”
This is a long picture book to read aloud in one sitting, but if you incorporate the songs as they occur in the text, it could bring the story alive for the students. This might also be a good book to use in substitute plans for grades 3-6.