Moomin and I are reading Rebecca’s War, a book set during the Revolutionary War. I loved this book when I was little and since Moomin’s studying the American Revolution in school, this seemed like a good time for it.
Rebecca is a teenager in Philadelphia. Her dad is a smuggler and privateer; her oldest brother Will and the ship’s first mate Teddy are off with her dad doing work for the revolution, and her teenage brother Tom ran off to join General Wayne’s army. She has to keep house along with the family servant, Ursula, and find food for her younger brother and sister. Officers are billeted on the family’s house. Rebecca is the only one who knows that 2 million pounds in French gold are hidden under the stairs, the money Dr. Franklin borrowed to shore up American paper currency. With only a sled and her little brother and sister to help, she scours the woods to find firewood and fallen nuts to supplement their diet of corn mush. At some point she figures out how to sell the smuggled French brandy hidden in the family’s secret tunnel system. Meanwhile she’s doing stuff like ice skating past the British guards to bring food and bandages to the American prisoners.
It’s a great book, though no longer in print. Its author, Ann Finlayson, wrote several non-fiction history books for kids. It has some roots in romance novel tradition — the wounded officer is very much a romance novel hero! It stands out to me as especially good in the genre of YA historical fiction.
Moomin loves the parts about Rebecca’s bravery, and all the secret passages and tunnels and descriptions of Philadelphia. I think he is absorbing a lot of details about the street names and the layout of Philadelphia.
The writing is very good and the historical details seem accurate. I’ve read this book over and over again!
Its pace is probably a little too slow for most kids under 10. It’s good to read with a printed out historical map of Philadelphia and some explanations of who the different generals are.
While re-reading it this time I thought about a book I just read about North Korea: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Rebecca and her family are nearly starving and are certainly malnourished as they eat nothing but cornmeal mush for many months. They scour the countryside to find sticks for firewood. Soldiers have moved into all the houses around them and have destroyed fences, doors, anything made of wood, to burn for warmth and their cooking fires. I guess I thought of the North Koreans’ stories of their families dying of starvation and disease brought on by malnourishment and the ways they scavenged for tree bark and edible weeds. Of course, the situations don’t really compare on a large scale. But the experiences of starvation are described in similar ways.
As we had a late night dinner in La Taqueria on Mission Street he was reading it and I took some photos. The taqueria is lively, warm, and fast-paced and everything is delicious. I love how fast the people who work there make things; their system is super-organized. I imagine the parents from “Cheaper by the Dozen” describing it in therbligs.
The neon signs were bright reflecting in the night time windows…
I had one of those feelings of a magic moment where everything was unusually beautiful and a little bit slowed down in time. It felt like a historical moment where I was part of a city. One of those mini epiphanies where my life and everything about it that I enjoy feels ephemeral.
Moomin had his nose buried in his book so I don’t think he was even aware of the food in front of him, much less the beautiful amazing people and place around him. That’s okay … the moments he enjoys or remembers aren’t going to be the ones I do, or even the ones I plan for him to enjoy and remember.
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