Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Non-Fiction
When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots

When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots

Fall 2004 Non-Fiction
Ages: 4 - 15 yrs.
Author: Lynne Cheney
Illustrator: Peter Fiore
ISBN: 0-689-87043-4
Hardcover Price: $16.95
At a time of year when others recite "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" or sing "Oh, Holy Night," Lynne Cheney seems something of an exception. Apparently when the Cheney clan (including her husband, the vice-president) gathers with hot chocolate around the yule fire, Lynne Cheney recounts how George Washington crossed the Delaware River in darkness and surprised a garrison of Hessian soldiers. "This is the story that I tell my grandchildren at Christmas," she writes.

Recall that story. By the end of 1776, the British had soundly defeated the rebels in quick succession at the start of the war. Thinking his "mission accomplished," the British General Cornwallis had grown confident and lax. The issue then was: How could a ragtag bunch of insurgents "succeed against the mightiest power in the world" and "the greatest army in the world"? The answer, Cheney tells us, was "surprise." Several hundred fighters rowed across the Delaware in the middle of the night, staged a guerilla attack on Christmas day upon occupying coalition forces (Hessian mercenaries employed by the British), killed many and took hostages, and the tide of the war changed forever. I must add that if this wasn't actually a part of our country's past, Cheney's unwitting echo of recent events abroad might seem uncanny.

While more impressionistic, Peter Fiore's accompanying paintings remind me of N.C. Wyeth's pictures for the Scribners' edition of Treasure Island. It was at first puzzling why so many in Fiore's rendition of Washington's ragtag army looked like pirates and buccaneers. Then I recalled Frank O'Hara's poem about Emanuel Leutze's famous painting "George Washington Crossing the Delaware," the one with our standing hero facing forward at the front of the boat, the Stars and Stripes unfurling behind him. It's "a pirate's flag," O'Hara observes.

Jerry Griswold   ©2004 Parents' Choice

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