Shades of Gray

by Carolyn Reeder. (Macmillan, 1989 ISBN 0-02-775810-9) Novel. Grades 4+.
This review by Carol Otis Hurst first appeared in Teaching K-8 Magazine.


I like historical novels for children because I think it's one of the best ways to get them to care about the past. When you see a period of time through the eyes of one character, it takes on a reality that mere facts seldom attain. One of the best historical novels I've read in a long time is Carolyn Reeder's Shades of Gray.

Twelve year old Will Page is a grieving and angry boy when Doctor Martin takes him to his relatives in the Piedmont region of Virginia. Will's family in Winchester, Virginia has been wiped out in the Civil War. His father fought bravely in the Confederate Army, his sisters died of a disease that Will is convinced was carried by the Yankees and his mother died soon afterward. That's why Will is grieving; his anger is directed at the Union Army, of course, but also at the uncle with whom he is to live. Uncle Jed refused to take sides in the war and Will's family considered him a traitor and a coward, a feeling shared by most of Jed's neighbors.

Will's family had slaves and, although they treated them kindly as compared to many slave owners, the slaves did all the real work on the plantation. Will is not used to manual labor and now, living with his aunt , uncle and cousin who share what little they have with him gladly, his pride will not let him admit to weariness or dismay. Working along side his uncle, Will comes to a begrudging admiration of his skill and wisdom. It is late in the book before he begins to understand that the price his uncle and his family paid for their beliefs was almost as great as the one Will's family paid. It's a well told story of the time just after the Civil War and not hard to read; most fifth graders could handle it easily.


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