Two brothers are less than thrilled with their visit to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Their grandma has banned all their electronic gadgets for this trip. When she pulls them into a museum run by one of her friends, a Mr. Portufoy, the boys don’t think much of the photographs. The weaponry causes a bit of excitement, but it is the uniforms they are allowed to try on that really captures their attention.
After trying on the uniforms, Mr. Portufoy offers the boys a game, one that promises is better than a video game. The game is to go to Antietam just after the battle by passing through the door. Mr. Portufoy’s one caution before the boys start their game is to not tell any other players about their current lives.
While in Antietam, the boys meet Matthew Brady and Abraham Lincoln. This book provides a good introduction to the differences between life in the 2010s versus life in the 1860s. The book touches on the horrible reality of war when the boys stumble upon scores of dead soldiers in the bloody cornfield of Antietam.
As I have visited a number of Civil War sites, I found it interesting to glimpse those places in a picture book. I appreciated Patricia Polacco’s note to readers at the end of the book explaining the differences between the Antietam in her book and the historical one in her book (Lincoln did not visit the battlefield until October 3 so it is unlikely saw bodies as they were shown in the picture book). I enjoyed the inclusion of Alexander Gardner and Matthew Brady, the photographers.
The boys, of course, violate Mr. Portufoy’s order not to tell about the present, but Patricia Polacco managed to do so in a way that will not quickly become dated by using a coin one of the boys had rather than them stating the year they were from. The telling about the present could be a great discussion launcher in the classroom, especially when one of the boys wonders if they should have told Lincoln about something that would happen in 1865.
After reading this book, it’d be great to have students view some of civil war era photographs kept online by the Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/cwph…) or by The Center for Civil War Photography (http://www.civilwarphotography.org/)