Wednesday, December 26, 2012
The Portsmouth Alarm by Terri De Mitchell
Portsmouth, New Hampshire. December 1774. The Continental Congress of the colonies had recently proposed a boycott on British imports and New Hampshire residents were enforcing it. Committees of Inspection made sure they did. Committees on Communication carried important information between the provinces, and in mid-December 1774, Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth to tell them the cache of gunpowder for use by Massachusetts’ residents had been taken by British soldiers.
Thus begins this young adult historical novel, centering on the perspectives of three teen schoolmates at the Latin Grammar School of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. DeMitchell conveys a marvelous sense of place and time, for even today we are able to visit the buildings she speaks of and can immediately connect to the cold and windy weather. Portsmouth is remarkably preserved, as those who have visited the Strawbery Banke Museum can attest. The Town of Portsmouth was named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
Best of all, by using the distinct viewpoints of three boys, DeMitchell outlines confusion among the populace about allegiance to the crown or whether residents should unshackle themselves from British rule. Each of the boys must make his own decision about the events that unfold after Revere’s warning, but the historical import of the colonists’ raid of a gunpowder stash in the Newcastle fort is clear to us today. Only four months later, battles in Lexington and Concord are now regarded as the beginning of America’s Revolutionary War.
This novel is an aid for young adults (ages 10-16) to understand the complexity of the issues facing residents in pre-revolutionary America. The drama is quite close and clear to the reader, and gives one a strong sense of history. It could be a useful teaching tool in conjunction with a classroom curriculum module and I thrill to think of the fabulous field trips that can be taken in conjunction with studying this period of history. The buildings are relatively close together in Portsmouth and Newcastle (short bus rides), and the atmosphere is old New England braced by sea air.
This book is due out January 2013 by Mayhaven Publishing.
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