by Patricia Beatty. (Morrow, 1987. ISBN 0688066879. Order Info.) Novel. 186 pages. Grades 4-8.
This accessible novel debates such things as the necessity and horror of war and the recognition of true courage. Charley has longed to experience the glory of war and enlists in the Union army to avenge his brother's death and to escape from his previous Bowery life. Too young to be a soldier, he enlists as a drummer boy. During his first battle, Charley kills a man and is so traumatized by this that he skedaddles to the mountains of Virginia. There he truly proves his courage by saving the life of an old woman.
The relationship between the old woman -- Granny Bent -- and Charley starts out rocky: she is suspicious of him and makes him fetch and carry for her. Gradually and with subtlety the relationship changes and, when she is hurt, it is concern for her that causes Charley to confront the panther and get Granny home safely. This deed of courage gives Charley the confidence he needs to move on, knowing he'll return to the mountains and their beautiful solitude when he is ready.
The definition of courage should be a logical step for this book as Charley finds his courage far from the field of battle where he was sure he would act so bravely. Charley's growth from callow braggert in the Bowery to sensitive young man who has looked himself squarely in the face is possible to chart on a time line, deed by deed.
There's certainly no shortage of books for young people about the Civil War and many have horrors of war as their focus. Carolyn Reeder's book Shades of Gray also set in the mountains and in that time also deals with the subject of what is and what is not true courage.
The setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains plays an important part in Charley Skedaddle and readers might want to find out more about the area. Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser's picture book Appalachia might make a good book to examine together after reading Beatty's book.
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