Lynne Cheney is a very gifted writer. She is, of course, the “2nd Lady” (wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney). But she is also a distinguished scholar with impressive credentials, including a Ph.D. in British Literature. She served as the Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993 and is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past six years she has published a series of very good children’s books on topics in American history.
When Washington Crossed the Delaware is subtitled “A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.” With a clear, direct narrative, Ms. Cheney sets the scene of the beleaguered American army which had been driven from New York and forced to retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. She talks about how desperately the Americans needed a victory – in order to give everyone some hope that they could eventually defeat the British. She mentions Tom Paine, who marched with the American army as they retreated through New Jersey and includes the famous line he composed on the march, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . .”
The paintings that accompany Ms. Cheney’s text are wonderful. The illustrator was able to visit the site of the crossing, consult with local historians and witness a winter re-enactment of the crossing. The attention to detail shows. You can feel the cold. Your eye is involuntarily drawn to the figure of Washington, warming himself by a fire on the New Jersey shore of the river.
After the army is assembled, you can see Washington’s impatience and determination as they set out towards the Hessians soldiers who have occupied Trenton. He had hoped to attack before sunup, but now would be attacking shortly after dawn. The narrative mentions that both 19-year-old Captain Alexander Hamilton, and 18-year-old Lieutenant James Monroe took part in the crossing and the attack on Trenton. Monroe was badly wounded leading a charge against the Hessians, when they managed to get two of their cannon into operation. Hamilton went on to be a signer of the US Constitution and served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. Monroe would be elected our fifth President in 1808.
Following the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton, Washington continued his offensive by launching an attack on the British regulars a few miles northeast of Trenton at Princeton. In that battle, Washington personally rallied his troops and led them to within thirty yards of the British lines. It is miraculous that he survived the volleys of musket fire, but when the British line broke, he joined in the pursuit.
The twin victories at Trenton and Princeton lifted the spirits of the Continental Army and patriots throughout the colonies. For the first time, the American army had defeated British regulars (and German mercenaries) on the field of battle. There would be many more battles and several years of trials, but the character and commitment of General Washington were brilliantly displayed.
Perhaps the best part of this book is that although it is pitched towards elementary students, the story will appeal just as much to older students. First graders will be captivated by the full-page color illustrations and enjoy having the text read to them. Third/Fourth graders will probably be able to read it for themselves. Each two-page spread includes a quotation from an eyewitness/participant in the battle.
- Rob Shearer, Publisher
PS: You have to love the picture of Lynn Cheney with a group of students on the back cover!
PPS: I’ll have a complete review of We the People in another newsletter.