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Book Review: The American Twins of the Revolution by Lucy Fitch Perkins

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In the countryside surrounding Philadelphia two opposing engines of war are converging. The Continental Army is falling back, short on funds, struggling to keep their soldiers paid in the fight for freedom. The British army approaches providing fierce competition for food and supplies, seizing homes for temporary bases as their commanding officer approaches the struggling American forces.

In the fall of 1777 General Priestly arranges for his family — wife and young twins Sally and Roger — to receive and deliver the coin necessary to provide wages for the American soldiers. Their mission becomes far more complex and fraught with danger when it becomes clear that British spies are aware of the money in the family’s possession; they will stop at nothing to obtain it. Called upon to exhibit bravery, strength, and strategic planning, the Priestly’s enter into a game of avoidance and stealth their everyday lives have not prepared them for.

Along with a particular silver tea set, the account of the events of 1777 were passed down through the Priestly family until being recounted by Sally’s great-granddaughter to the author. Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937) began her work with children’s books as an illustrator. Her black and white sketches grace the pages of The American Twins of the Revolution. Her talent for drawing figures and historical apparel is evident and greatly appreciated by my children. In 1911 she wrote her first novel for young people and remained a popular children’s author until her death. This edition has been reprinted by Salem Ridge Press as a valuable addition to their line of wholesome historical fiction for young readers.

Once again my small children (ages five, two, and six months) served as my read-aloud audience for this novel. However, I was surprised to learn that my husband was eavesdropping on my nightly readings as well – caught up in the suspense, adventure and military details. Read over a period of sickness in our home, my throat gave out early one night only to have my husband volunteer to take over the reading duties. He read far into the night, a rare occurrence in our home. As Canadians, the American Revolution isn’t at the top of our list of historical events to explore. Perkins' skillful building of suspense and intrigue at a level appropriate for young readers captivated our family unexpectedly.

The story presupposes a Christian worldview, held by the vast majority of Americans during the nation's formative years. Outward appearances of faith are naturally integrated within the storyline as the characters depend upon God for their protection.

Sensitive readers may be disturbed by the fact that the Priestly family and those surrounding them kept slaves. As we are all aware, slavery is unfortunately a well-documented fact of American history. By the accounts given in The American Twins of the Revolution the Priestlys were fair and kind slave owners for their time. Aunt Hitty and Uncle Jude, though portrayed somewhat stereotypically, are depicted as heroes in their own right. Though not explicitly examined by the author, their loyalty to the Priestly family and abundant courage were indispensable factors in the successful outcome of the unexpectedly dangerous mission.

The dialogue of slaves throughout the novel is presented in a heavy, southern dialect. Having some experience reading similar depictions of the speech of enslaved African-Americans I was able to decipher some of it by reading phonetically. Other portions were beyond me and proved unintelligible. Although I did my best to render the written word into speech, my daughter and husband would often voice their lack of understanding. I did the best I could.

Though The American Twins of the Revolution was originally printed in 1926, Salem Ridge Press is successfully showing readers that oldies can indeed be goodies. In a marketplace in which over 175,000 books are printed yearly it is far too easy to be swept away in the flood of young adult titles with little substance to commend them. Delving into works rich with commendable character traits and wholesome plots can only serve to fortify the foundations our children will build upon for the rest of their lives.

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