George Washington's Socks, by Elvira Woodruff (Scholastic, 1991, younger middle grade, 176 pages in pb edition)
Browsing in my local bookstore a while ago, my eye was caught by George Washington's Spy (November, 2010)-it appeared to be a time travel book, and I am always on the look out for those. Indeed it was, but I found that it is a sequel to a much earlier book, G.W.'s Socks, which I then found and read, and which I now offer as this week's Timeslip Tuesday book.
It seemed to the four boys like a great idea to form a club and camp out next to the woods. Matt was the instigator--inspired by a book, Adventures in History, he wanted a history adventure club of his own. But when his little sister Katie has finagled her way into the camp out, and camping "next to" the woods really means being in a back yard, adventure is thin on the ground. So the five kids decide to walk down the nearby lake...a lake where people have mysteriously disappeared in the past. There they find a wooden rowboat, that exerts an irresistible fascination... The next thing they know, they are being carried down the half frozen Delaware River, caught up in the Revolutionary War.
Matt is separated from the rest of the group, and finds himself marching along with George Washington's forces. The horrors of that cold winter journey toward Trenton become all to clear to him, as he walks along the snowy trail made bloody by the feet of those ahead of him. And there is worse to come. Before they make it home, the children will learn first hand the brutality of war, and that good and bad individuals can be found on either side.
Fine points, and worked fairly deftly into the story. But still, I found the whole ensemble a tad didactic-every new encounter brings a message, which was the author's intent. From the author's note: "Being a pacifist, she wrote George Washington's Socks for her son Noah, who is very fond of G.I. Joe." The characters never quite became alive enough, in my mind, to take control of the book away from the Message. However, it's a message I wholeheartedly agree with. And since there's enough adventure here to keep the reader's interest, and since it does provide a good introduction to what life in George Washington's army might have been like, I do recommend this to its intended audience.
But I do have one reservation. One of the adventures was a meeting with two Indian boys, or, actually, with two stereotypes of Indian boys (Bows and arrows? check. Face paint? check. Ability to move gracefully/without a sound/etc? check. Almost non-existent English? check. Maybe if this book had been set 150 years earlier I would have been more tolerant, but by 1776 the chances of encountering two such boys/stereotypes in New Jersey would be pretty slim).
Timeslip-wise, this one of those stories in which the magic of time travel doesn't helpfully deal with issues of clothes and modern vocabulary. Woodruff deals believably with these points--the people encountered in the past are, in general, to preoccupied to spend too much time wondering about them.
Even though George Washington's Socks didn't work all that well for me, I'll be looking for the next book, George Washington's Spy--Woodruff has had 17 years of writing experience since then, and so I am hopeful that the good that was in this book--the vibrant recreation of events in the past--will be part of a more generally satisfying package! (And I also am hopeful that little Katie, who was an unmitigated brat, will be less so in the new book....)