Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Town That Fooled the British by Lisa & Robert Papp

With Memorial Day coming up, it seemed a fitting time to post my review of this book that commemorates a real event that happened during one of our often-overlooked national conflicts, the War of 1812. My thanks to the good folks at Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a review copy of The Town That Fooled the British: A War of 1812 Story by Lisa Papp, illustrated by Robert Papp, which tells a slightly fictionalized by truly fascinating story of how the town of St. Michaels, Maryland, avoided obliteration at the hands of the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812.

Lisa Papp has invented a young boy named Henry Middle, who gets himself right into the middle of the action. He is the reader's proxy, a way of seeing and being invested in this true story of how a small shipbuilding town along the Chesapeake River managed to avoid destruction through the clever use of lanterns. It turns out that when the British sailed up the river, intent on wiping out the source of so many of the Baltimore clippers that were giving the Royal Navy so much trouble, they were fortunate to be shrouded in darkness and fog. It turns out that the elements that assisted them in what they thought was a sneak attack also worked against them, as they collected as many lanterns as they could and hung them in the trees outside of town. The British shelled the heck out of those trees, but the town and its ships were all safe.

The title of the book is drawn from the motto of the Town of St. Michaels, which I believe I now have to visit, as it's been well-preserved in its colonial splendor. Below is the art from the first spread of the book.

You can see much of the rest of the artwork at Robert Papp's online gallery for this book; just click on the boxes to embiggen the picture and see the whole thing. (Is it terribly wrong to say that I think fictional Henry Middle's fictional father is hot? Probably, but it's still true.)

I very much enjoyed learning about the history of the Town of St. Michaels, and I appreciate the Papps' decision to highlight this event from the War of 1812. As the note at the back of the book points out, that particular war was important not only for preserving the United States' independence from England, but also for the creation of iconic symbols like Uncle Sam, the Star-Spangled Banner, and the name for the White House. A must-read for kids who are interested in history, and a great follow-up for afficianados of the Revolutionary War. Because it contains a fictionalized main character, I suppose the book may be characterized by some as historical fiction, but given its high content of historical fact, I'm willing to consider it creative nonfiction. (YMMV.)

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