The Free and the Brave

Written by Tovah S. Yavin
Review by Fiona Alison

Set in August and September of 1814, during the War of 1812 (known as the Second War of Independence), this middle-grade history book tells the story of Fort McHenry’s resistance to the British incursion to capture strategic Baltimore Harbour. The story centres on the Hebrew Frank family, husband, wife and twelve-year-old son Jacob, who is determined to help in the struggle against the British in any way he can. Too young to join the fencible regiment, he delivers kosher food around town daily for Mr Ettings and, after the arrival of the British warships, kosher food and coffee to the Hebrew sons stationed at the Fort. Jacob comes close to risking his life but believes it all worth it in defence of all free Americans. In Washington, the White House, the president’s mansion and other homes were burned by the British, as people fled for their lives. Although many families likewise left Baltimore, others stayed behind and families such as the historical Cohens and Ettings helped alongside non-Jewish Americans to defend the harbour. Some made inventive sacrifices such as sinking their private boats to hinder the advance of British warships.

Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “In Defence of Fort M’Henry” about the American stand against the British and the bravery of local citizens. This poem was renamed “The Star Spangled Banner” and is proudly sung by Americans everywhere. I had not realised how many verses the original poem contained and was interested to read it in its entirety.

This beautifully expedited novel, recommended for 10- to 12-year-olds, is a compact coming-of-age-in-two-months story which spreads the message of the importance of family, friendship, hard work (often without remuneration), and pulling together across racial/ethnic barriers in times of need. Jacob is a fine example to young people everywhere as he grows up very quickly in face of war. Interesting historical notes accompany this novel.