A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This book provides a way for kids to learn about the Civil War, including the Battle of Gettysburg, and other historical elements, such as the Underground Railroad. It may inspire kids to learn more about this time period. Parents can check out our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas about discussing the book with kids.
Homer may lie a lot, but his heart is in the right place. Through his story, he demonstrates the horrors of war and slavery.
Positive Role Models
Homer is an appealing hero -- recklessly adventurous, dishonest for the sheer creative fun of it, and goodhearted as only a kid can be.
Violence & Scariness
In battle many are killed and injured, some have to have limbs cut off with a saw. Men kick a boy, a man hits another in the head with a baseball bat, a man is badly beaten.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Women dance in their underwear for an audience of men.
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African-Americans are referred to as "darky."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink, get drunk, and chew tobacco. Children smoke pipes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this Newbery Honor book is about the Civil War. While much of this story is a humorous tall tale, it culminates with a lengthy and realistic portrait of the horrors of war -- in particular, the Battle of Gettysburg, including horrible injuries, amputations by saw, and many deaths. Homer is a charming narrator -- he lies a lot but also tries to do what's right. Through his story, readers will certainly learn something about the war, as well as the mistreatment of slaves.
Is It Any Good?
It's a tricky task the author has set himself here, but he succeeds brilliantly. He effectively conveys something of the reality of this horrific war, as well as the mistreatment of African-Americans (not to mention orphans), in the context of a broadly humorous tall tale told by a boy who believes that "old Truth ain't nearly as useful as a fib sometimes." That he accomplishes the task so well is no surprise, coming from the author of Freak the Mighty: This is a writer who knows how to balance humor, poignancy, and power, never going overboard in any one direction.
He also manages to create a story that reads like a tall tale, populated with larger-than-life characters, that somehow rarely strains credulity. It's one of those cinematic stories that not only runs like a movie in the reader's head, but also prompts mental attempts at casting, a game your kids might enjoy. Homer is an appealing hero -- recklessly adventurous, dishonest for the sheer creative fun of it, and goodhearted as only a kid can be. With touches of Dickens and Twain, this is a delightful read with some layers that may prompt your kids to learn more.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.