This past weekend, I had the pleasure to tour the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and the Forgotten Soldier Exhibit.
The Forgotten Soldier Exhibit chronicles the “experiences of African-American soldiers who took part in the American cause for a free and independent nation or took up arms for British forces in hopes of obtaining their own freedom.” It was a humbling experience that left me feeling even more grateful for the sacrifices so many have made in the founding of our country.
The American Revolutionary War was not based on politics, the battle brought people together from all walks of life. “The primary purpose of government, according to the Declaration, was to secure man’s inalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and other values sought were unity and public virtue. These values expressed and reflected the social conditions of early America.”
The realities surrounding the road to freedoms did not come together equally for all at the same time. I place my hope in that we have learned difficult lessons from the past, and will continue to honor the fact that everyone has the right to be free, live in peace and harmony without fear and without overreaching government interference.
For this Independence Day Holiday, please take pause to learn more about the founding of the United States of America and to honor all of our Forgotten Soldiers.
Happy 4th of July Everyone,
Risa Leigh Clarke, Producer – http://ElijahandGeorge.com
Follow the adventures of Elijah, a young camp follower as he encounters famous figures of the American Revolution on his search for his father who has gone missing after the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. Described by its creators as Huckleberry Finn meets The Patriot, the movie is an adventurous, at-time humorous, heartfelt story steeped in Family, Freedom, Home and Redemption!
Michael Dooling is an author and illustrator of educational children’s books about important periods in American History. One of his books, George Washington’s Army and Me, is being adapted for a feature film. We asked him about his work, the book, and the movie.
You’ve produced a line of children’s books and workbooks dealing with different periods in American history. Tell us a little bit about your work and your process for developing these stories.
The obscure has always piquedmy curiosity—the lesser-known but pivotal moments in history about people who changed the world: like the fossil hunter who proved that dinosaurs really once existed, the first wild and wacky horse-less carriage race, young Thomas Edison’s insatiable appetite to experiment, the bugle boy who wrote letters home to his mother, or the women and children who followed their fathers to war.
Consumed by the period you’ll find me scouring the shelves at a library, asking questions at a museum, or pestering reenactors about this and that. I’ll hold the strange and monstrous dinosaur bone, examine Edison’s gadgets, doohickeys, and thingamajigs, or putt-putt along in a horseless carriage and toot the horn, Bwonk, bwonk! Capturing the spirit of an era requires an enormous amount of research and forethought. Usually, I find much more information than I will ever need but the process is educational fun, in itself. I then spend the better part of a year or more writing, rewriting, and as my old illustrator friend used to say, pushing the paint around.
For the book George Washington’s Army and Me, I enlisted the help of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment: a living history organization, dedicated to presenting the lives of soldiers and camp-followers serving in the American Revolutionary War. This group proved to be a valuable resource in my research and is also serving as historical advisors on the film. Some of the members even modeled for my paintings.
The Revolutionary War lasted for eight years and included many famous events. How did you decide on the specific place and time frame for your book George Washington’s Army & Me?
Nine-year-old Elijah is caught up in the midst of the revolutionary war. He, like many woman and children in 1778, followed his father, a soldier in George Washington’s army. They followed the army because they had nowhere else to go or were afraid the British army might come to their town and wreak havoc. In my research, I found The Battle of Monmouth lends itself to the storyline that I had imagined. Many soldiers died of heat exhaustion and many went missing from the battle. I inserted my character into the plot and weaved a tale of an impossible adventure that begins when Elijah sneaks out of George Washington’s encampment to find his father, a soldier who does not return from the Battle of Monmouth.
Elijah sneaks out of camp in the middle of the night and the adventure begins: he falls into a creek, encounters a frightening Indian, a mangy dog, is chased by British soldiers, has a pistol cocked just two inches from his face, and even finds himself playing draughts with General Washington.
What challenges do you face in placing a fictional story into a historically accurate context?
The facts drive the story and cannot be altered. To move from one scene to the next I imagine what could have happened in keeping with the spirit of my research. Dialogue moves the action from one scene to the next. Woven around the Battle of Monmouth is a story essentially about hope—about getting home—Elijah’s Long Journey Home.
What resources were most useful to you in researching this story?
I rely on primary sources: military letters and diaries that explain a minutia of seemingly trivial but interesting facts that paint a picture of life in 1778. For instance, women and children had to work for rations. Even children drank beer—a kind of light beer made from the twigs of a spruce tree that according to Elijah tasted horrible. And believe me, it does, I’ve tried it. Unfortunately, if a soldier died his family had forty-eight hours to get out of camp because Washington felt that camp followers slowed down his army.
Did your own views and understanding change in the course of your research? What was your own biggest revelation or greatest discovery?
I have always been a home-body, at heart. A couple of my books deal with this topic. It is heartbreaking to imagine the struggles that people endured during the war for independence. Women and children pushed along following their loved one: sometimes walking nine miles-a-day carrying all their belongings, sleeping on the ground, and having very little to eat. It was an army of women and children struggling to keep up.
“But keeping up was hard to do. We had been walking since before daybreak. Two thousand civilians marched behind the army, each one of us carrying our worldly possessions: most haversacks were full of wooden bowls, spoons, plates, pots, pans, blankets, forks, knives, tankards, and canteens; most shoulders were sore and laden with brass kettles, iron pots, well buckets, lanterns, washtubs, chairs, benches, you name it. If we couldn’t carry it, it got left behind. I suspect the road traveled was littered with fine articles that at one time, a lad or lass, could not have done without. It was a caravan of rag-tag, poorly clothed suffering individuals from all walks of life, speaking various dialects: Irish, Scotch, Dutch, English, German, and some curious lingoes I could only speculate on. There were tradesmen, as well: carpenters, blacksmiths, forgemen, coopers, smiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, wagoners, bellowmakers, rope and tent-makers, nailers, and sutlers. Malcontents, scallywags, scoundrels, and women of the lower social orders rounded out the bunch.”
Tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten on this particular story and the workbook that goes with it.
George Washington’s Army and Meis a very popular book—one of my best sellers. Many teachers use this book, and the companion Literature Guide, as tools when introducing the subject of the revolutionary war. I visit many elementary schools each year and talk about how I write and illustrate and this story always touches a nerve. It is hard to fathom that someone’s life (Elijah’s) could be so difficult. So, to make the events palatable I created a character that children today can relate to: a character that plays Checkers.
“Elijah’s only solace—his only piece of ‘home’ —is occasionally getting to play draughts (checkers) with his Pa.”
It reminds him of home and of his mom: both of which were taken from him by the British army. Draughts was very popular during the colonial period and plays an essential role in the film. The game of Draughts is basically a character in itself. In the story, circumstances lead Elijah to even play with General Washington! I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that the game of Draughts saves Elijah’s life. Most kids today have played checkers at some point in their life and can relate.
George Washington’s Army & Me is being made into a movie. How did that opportunity come about?
Andrea Clarke, the Producer at 1663 Media Arts, read the story and loved it. Andrea has a great sense of storytelling and could see Elijah’s character coming to life. It is a film that adults and children alike can appreciate. Filled with adventure, drama, and humor George Washington’s Army and Me is tailor-made for the big screen.
An impossible adventure begins when a young boy sneaks out of George Washington’s encampment to find his father, a soldier who does not return from the Battle of Monmouth.
Will the game of draughts save the young boy’s life and get him home?
What changes had to be made to the story in order to adapt it to a screenplay?
The original thirty-two-page picture book is only about 1,000 words and is streamlined for an elementary school audience. The film’s story had to be expanded ten-fold: lengthening scenes, adding new scenes, and introducing new characters. Each character was developed and obscure but important facts were added that just don’t quite fit into the picture book. The film goes deeper into the lives of eighteenth-century people.
In your view, what are the most important aspects of the American Revolution that children should understand?
The men, women, and children that struggled and fought for freedom paved the way for our way of life. Home, Sweet Home.
What else would you like readers to know about your books, the movie, or about this time period?
History is fascinating and can be fun. Read the Book. Watch the Film’s Trailer. PLAY Draughts like Elijah! Like Benjamin Franklin said, “For life is a kind of Draughts, in which we have points to gain and competitors or adversaries to contend with…”
America’s 242nd Year of Independence will be Celebrated Wednesday, July 4, 2018. We are proud the underlying message of our film, ElijahandJack, A Revolutionary Tale, is universal to freedom. Everyone wants to be free from tyranny. Freedoms for a safe place to call home with family and friends.
Please take pause to remember and honor the very young soldier’s who sacrificed so much during the American Revolutionary War to secure our freedoms.
“Elijah and Jack, A Revolutionary Tale” “Home is worth fighting for!” http://ElijahandJack.com
July 4, 1776 – The Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence while meeting in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Statehouse (now Independence Hall). The Congress declares the American colonies free and independent states. (Note: John Hancock signs on July 4th. The rest sign on August 2, 1776.)
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the committee that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, actually wrote most of the document. The committee and Congress as a whole made a total of 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft.
First two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence:
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
The modern form of Draughts was introduced into Europe, from Egypt, at the beginning of the 16th century. From monumental inscriptions, it appears that the game was familiar to the Egyptians as early as 200 B.C. Its antiquity is attested to by Homer in the Odyssey, where reference is made to games in the palace of Ulysses in Ithica, and by Plato, who in his dialogues made frequent mention of it by way of illustrations.
Benjamin Franklin: “For life is a kind of Draughts, in which we have points to gain and competitors or adversaries to contend with: and in which there is a vast variety of good and evil events that are in some degree, the effects of prudence, or want of it. By playing at Draughts then we learn
(1) foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action
(2) circumspection, which surveys the whole scene of action
(3) caution – the habit of not making our moves to hastily.
Lastly, we learn by Draughts not to be discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, but to persevere in hoping for a favorable change, and in searching for resources.
The game is full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently discovers, after long contemplation, the means of extracting oneself from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hope of victory by our own skill, or a least of making a draw through the negligence of the adversary.”
“Draught Board Magazine”1870