The Silent Witness

Written by Claire A. Nivola (illus.) Robin Friedman
Review by Nylah Taylor-Eckford Teresa Basinski Eckford

This picture book fictionalizes a little girl’s experience during the American Civil War. Lula McLean lives on a farm near Bull Run, and her home serves as headquarters for the Confederate Army before the 1861 battle there. She and her brother even help out in the camp. Afterwards, Lula’s family moves south to Appomattox Court House, where Lula’s doll, the Silent Witness, is present for the peace negotiations towards the end of the war.

While a charming tale at heart, this story suffers from information dumping in the form of too many military details that only slow the pace. Lula herself is an appealing protagonist, and her everyday life will draw young readers in alongside Ms. Nivola’s rich, evocative illustrations. My seven-year-old niece, Nylah, liked the story and thought some of the history facts were neat, but she wanted to know more about what happened to Lula and less about the soldiers. Her favorite part was when the cannon ball landed in the pot of stew and exploded.

While I commend Ms. Friedman for wanting to teach history through fiction, a lighter hand with the military minutiae was needed to make this book a true keeper. (Ages 4-8)