My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Back blurb of My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier: All his life, Tim Meeker has looked up to his brother, Sam. Sam is smart and brave and always knows the right thing to do. Everyone in town admires him. Until now.

Sam has enlisted in the new American Revolutionary Army. He talks about defeating the British and becoming independent and free. But not everyone in town wants to be part of this new America. Most people are loyal supporters of the English king - including Tim and Sam's father.

War is raging and Tim knows he'll have to make a choice. But how can he choose when it means fighting his father on one side and fighting his brother on the other?

My thoughts

It's been a while since I've gotten my thoughts about some of the books I've read up on this blog. In fact, I've started a small notebook where I scribble down whatever comes to mind while reading. [That is the problem with computers, not as handy! ;)]

Although My Brother Sam Is Dead is a children's book, how it tackles the issue of war, its hardships and consequences, and inevitably, its utter senselessness is very adult-like.

This is historical fiction and while the main characters are fictional, the setting - Redding, Connecticut - and some of the people are real. The book has a section in the back which answers "How much of this book is true?" A great introduction for children who have yet to try historical fiction.

This book is also about family dynamics. How do families cope in the face of war?

The relationship of the two brothers was the focus. Do you have an older brother or sister? Then you'll easily be able to empathize with Tim who idolizes Sam. But as the war goes on, Tim comes to the realization that he cannot be Sam ... he learns to be his own person, with his own ideas, opinions, and his own stand about the war itself:
I knew he was wrong. He was staying in the army because he wanted to stay in the army, not because of duty or anything else… knowing that about Sam gave me a funny feeling. I didn't feel like his little brother so much anymore, I felt more like his equal.
The relationship of father and son(s) is also pictured - a tense generational and idealogical clash of Sam and his father. The family dynamic shifts throughout the book, with Tim taking on more and more responsibility with Sam gone. And when Tim's father is captured, Tim automatically steps in as the man of the family.

As a parent, I also realized the dilemma that Sam's parents faced. What do you do with a rebellious son? What do you do when you know that consequences of your child's beliefs could very well kill him and the family?

It's interesting that the women in the story are add-ons, save for the character of Mrs. Meeker. Make no mistake about it, the world depicted here is a man's world. (Thank goodness there are other books that tackle this period from the viewpoint of women).

This is beautifully written, empathetic. I highly recommend it to both children and adults.

[This is a Newbery Honor Book.]

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall