Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers Book Poster Image
Vividly realistic depiction of war.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Charley lies when he enlists. His mother encourages him to desert.


Battles are described graphically and in detail, including the gruesome deaths of comrades. Charley contemplates suicide.


Occasional mild religious-themed profanity.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this realistic depiction of war will open teens' eyes. The book covers major Civil War battles and details injuries and diseases among the soldiers. Though he enlists dishonestly, Charley does his best. Details injuries and causes of disease among the troops. It's great as an adjunct to history study, and for reluctant readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 8-year-old Written bypapilj March 25, 2011

Great for a first novel of the Civil War

Paulsen nails it once more for books that are timely, interesting, and appealing to young people. Written from the viewpoint of a 14 year old going off to battl... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDeetz December 29, 2020

Great but gory

This book is super good and the author nailed it. There is a lot of adventure and you really can see what war did to people and the things they saw. Just know,... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bygabec12 March 28, 2011
An ok book. worth reading though

What's the story?

When fifteen-year-old Charley lies about his age and enlists in the Minnesota Volunteers to fight in the Civil War, he has no idea what war is like. He soon finds out. Months of boredom are punctuated by weeks of disease, hunger, and cold, and days of terror and horror as he fights in several of the major battles, including Bull Run and Gettysburg.

He returns home an old man at twenty-one, shattered in mind, body, and spirit. In an author's note, Paulsen tells us he died two years later of poorly healed wounds and what we would call post-traumatic stress. Includes map and bibiliography.

Is it any good?

Kids who, like Charley Goddard, think that war is a noble and exciting endeavor will find out otherwise in SOLDIER'S HEART. Gary Paulsen pulls no punches in depicting the physical, emotional, and psychological effects in this absorbing Civil War chronicle based on a true story. With his characteristic blunt and muscular prose, Paulsen strips away the illusions and the rose-colored filters, and shows readers the truth.

Unvarnished truth is Paulsen's weapon, and he wields it formidably in descriptions of battles so graphic and yet so moving that the reader doesn't know whether to shudder in revulsion or weep at the waste of it all. Amid the carnage and stupidity, perhaps most devastating of all is watching young Charley turn from boy to old, old man within just a few years. Parents should be prepared to discuss this book with their children: They will be disturbed -- and if they're not, or if they think it's cool, then even more discussion is necessary.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the realities of war. Did the graphic realism of this book surprise you? Has it changed your view of the Civil War and other battles? Do you think war is as painful for soldiers today as it is for Charley? Why or why not?

Book details

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate