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Tim Meeker and his parents are surprised by the arrival of Sam, Tim’s older brother who was supposed to be away at Yale University. His home visit raises many questions, including of the rumors of war with the British. Tim admires his brother and listens devotedly to Sam’s stories of rebellion and colonial unrest.
At the same time, Tim is wary of Sam’s discussions because Redding, Connecticut is a Tory town. Tim watches helplessly as Sam and his father share a heated discussion and Sam runs off to join the war.
Tim can’t decide whom he should side with, but throughout the course of the novel his opinion sways back and forth. As the only other child in the family, Tim must tackle all the chores on his own now, which he resents, but he also feels his brother is fighting for a good cause.
Similarly, he resents the way Sam forces their father to respond so forcefully to his arguments. Tim loves his family but he doesn’t always agree with them and he is still struggling to discover where he stands in the conflict. Only when Tim begins to feel the hardships of war with the loss of his father, his friend, and his brother, as well as having to live with taking on the chores of the tavern on his own and the frustration of shortages, does Tim truly appreciate his father’s advice: “In war the dead pay the debts of the living."
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This Reader’s Opinion
My Brother Sam is Dead is a thoroughly engrossing novel. It’s one thing to learn the facts of war from a textbook and quite another to have the story of a family and a community to help a reader build personal connections, especially with a war as distant in American student minds as the Revolutionary War. For this reason, young readers must latch on to this novel and study it in conjunction with the facts. Reading teachers can still focus on the literary structure of the novel, while history teachers can stress the events and background for the novel.
For parents, My Brother Sam Is Dead allows the opportunity to discuss how war affects families. In the novel, Sam and his father disagree. Why is it important to express and respect opinions and consider other points of view? Does violence ever resolve anything? Of course you can also stress patriotism and the importance of standing up for your beliefs. Whatever facet of discussion you choose, there are still benefits to reap.
Tim’s struggle to decide his beliefs was such a realistic and relatable experience. How many times in our lives are we faced with the dilemma of deciding what is best for our family? Tim is a loving, devoted brother and a good role model for young readers. I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of historic allusions, such as mention of Benedict Arnold, the Continental Army general who defected to the British army and whose name became synonymous with ‘traitor.’ So just as Benedict Arnold must choose sides, Tim is also caught up in the midst of internal conflict.
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About the Authors
Two brothers, James and Christopher Collier, collaborated to create this engaging tale of a young boy’s experiences during the American Revolution. In his early career, Christopher Collier taught high school history until he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University and continued his career teaching college. In 1985 he was named a Connecticut State Historian. James, on the other hand, worked as a writer for magazines as well as having written dozens of non-fiction books, children’s fiction, and books for adults.
His books have been nominated for National Book Awards and the American Book Award. Their unique combined writing method certainly played a part in developing their interesting novels. To ensure My Brother Sam Is Dead was told as realistically as possible, Christopher, the historian of the brothers, first provided the research and an outline for the story, which he sent to his brother, James, the writer, to create a draft.
As the story continued to expand, the revisions were sent back and forth between the brothers until both were satisfied with the final draft. Their dedication to their writing craft and to historic accuracy combined to create one of the most enduring works of historic fiction ever published for young adult readers.
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Perhaps after reading this review of My Brother Sam Is Dead you will feel inspired to read this novel. For the sake of United States history and for the love of great young adult literature, I highly recommend reading My Brother Sam Is Dead.
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Collier, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier. My Brother Sam Is Dead. Scholastic: New York, 1974.
About the Authors: http://www.mcelmeel.com/writing/collier.html
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