CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 8. . . .October 26, 2012
Gillian Chan’s historical fiction novel, A Call to Battle, depicts some of the realities of war during the War of 1812. The story is narrated by a 13-year-old Canadian boy, Alexander (Sandy) McKay, who was raised on a farm with his two brothers and two sisters in Ancaster, ON. Though Sandy is quite respectful and obedient to his parents, he is also a determined character with hopes and ambitions to battle against the Americans alongside his brother Angus and their father in the Niagara Region. When Angus and their father go off to fight at Queenston Heights, the young and idealistic Sandy is resentful that he is left at home to pick up the work on the farm.
When Sandy’s father and Angus return from battle, Sandy has lots of questions; however, the family does not give him any answers. The lack of answers about the realities and glories on the battlefield are what really fuels his insatiable appetite to fight in the war. When the final battle is imminent, there is nothing more Sandy’s father can do to discourage Sandy from going into battle. Sandy’s notions of life on the battlefield are soon shattered when he witnesses a man getting killed by a musket ball and his brother getting severely wounded. Though the Canadian/British forces come out victorious at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Sandy’s idealized notions of war are changed forever.
Gillian Chan’s A Call to Battle is a coming-of-age story that provides a sobering look at the grim realities of war. She depicts the growth of a young boy with his bold and idealistic visions of war into a young man who has to come to grips with the harsh experience on the battlefield. She also captures what would have been the everyday realities of a small 19th century farming community during the three year war. A Call to Battle would be a very good and interesting book to use to teach middle school history and English literature.
Mark Mueller is the Education Librarian at Tyndale University College in Toronto, ON.
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