Charley Skedaddle, by Patricia Beatty, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1988, and is my challenge book for this month.
Published in 1987, Charley Skedaddle is set during 1864-65. It opens with New Yorker Charley Quinn, a 12-year-old who is proud to be a member of the Bowery Boys Gang just like his older brother Johnny, who died at Gettysburg. Trying to honor his brother, Charley fights boys from the rival gang, the Dead Rabbits, and he likes it. But when Charley learns his soon-to-be brother-in-law plans to send him to boarding school, Charley runs off with the 140th New York Volunteers to fight the Confederates. Charley’s first battle isn’t what he expected and he runs–skedaddles–away.
I’ve read Civil War stories since I was very young, but there always seems to be something new to learn. In this book, Beatty introduced me to The Battle of the Wilderness in 1864 Virginia. I had heard the name, but knew little about it. The Wilderness was an area where the trees and undergrowth grew so closely together that it was easy for soldiers to get separated and lost–and hide. Beatty also described a touching scene where General Robert E. Lee tried to lead an infantry charge, but the soldiers were so concerned about his safety they refused to continue unless he remained away from the worst action.
Because Charley was so young, and musical, he became a drummer boy. The fact of drummer boys is not new to me, but Charley is about the same age as one of my sons, so the thought of a 12-year-old in battle hit home for me. Also, even though he was a frightened boy who ran from a horrible situation, he was still considered a deserter and could have been shot. In fact, Beatty mentioned in her author’s note that both the Union and Confederate boys Charley’s age were shot as deserters.
I noticed Beatty only let readers see through Charley’s eyes and experience, his point of view. For example, in the beginning, Charley was upset because his sister was marrying someone who he detested and who was planning to ship him off. His sister might’ve had a good reason for this, but we don’t learn what it is. We just see Charley’s bewilderment and resentment. Later in the book, an old mountain woman insulted him and locked him up. Again we see Charley’s resentment. Readers might suspect the woman had a good reason for doing so, but we don’t find out for sure until later.
In my own writing for kids, I’m aware that I shouldn’t be too kind to my adult characters. I need to focus on my protagonists’ incomplete knowledge and his or her reactions to the adults so the readers identify with the protagonist instead of the adults.
For more information:
My post introducing my three-year Scott O’Dell Award Challenge.
The Civil War Trust’s Website about The Battle of the Wilderness.
A Children’s Literature Network bio about Patricia Beatty.
Join me at the end of October to talk about the 2007 Scott O’Dell Award book, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.
What is your favorite novel set during the Civil War? What Civil War battlefields have you seen?