Yes, it makes sense that George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff, (1993, 176 pages), is an Amazon best seller. Woodruff’s details about President Washington, and soldiers on both sides of the Battle of Trenton in the Revolutionary War really bring the whole conflict to life. The way she describes an individual rebel and a Hession fighting on behalf of the redcoats makes the reader care about both, and highlights the horror of war in general. However, the depictions of the five young time travelers did not ring true for me, so for this reason I didn’t love the book.
Can you judge a book by its title? It’s debatable. But many people who have not authored a time travel book might not realize that a lot of the more obvious desirable titles that use the words “time” or “time travel” are already taken! (An author can use the same title as an existing book, but trying to market a book with the same title can cause confusion.) I was aware of Geo. Washington’s Socks for several years before I read it, because I was put off by the corny title, despite the fact that I loved The Orphan of Ellis Island, another time travel book by this author (my review). Unfortunately, in the case of this book, I think the title does reflect a humor that is corny and dated. Sample:
Have you seen what Carla Ponti looks like lately?” Hooter said with a grin. “She had her hair permed or something and it looks like a brillo pad that’s been microwaved.” “Not too smart. But then she’s a girl. What do you expect?”
UGH. (Yes, the author is probably trying to be funny to appeal to reluctant reader boys. Still ugh.) I finally decided to read Socks after noting that it was one of only two middle grade time travel books on view at the Colonial Williamsburg, VA bookstore. Also, I had just finished the compelling Taking Liberty: The Story of Ona Judge, George Washington’s Runaway Slave (NOT a time travel book), and I was curious to see if any of the individuals George and Martha Washington kept enslaved are mentioned in Woodruff’s book. (Spoiler: they aren’t.) More about Ona Judge later.
Here’s a summary of Socks from goodreads:
A mysterious rowboat transports five adventurous kids back in time to the eve of the Battle at Trenton where they experience the American Revolution. Through encounters with Hessian soldiers, revolutionaries, and even George Washington himself, Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie watch history unfold before their eyes as they see first-hand, the grim realities of war and the cost of freedom.
This story has some great aspects. Matt is separated from his friends and gets conscripted to be in the rebel army where he meets a young man named Israel. Israel’s exhaustion due to long days of marching, his insufficient clothing, and his wounds are described in detail. Later, Matt is reunited with his friends, and they all meet a soldier on the other side whose personality is also fleshed out. I appreciated Matt’s epiphany about war:
“…maybe there’s no such thing as just good guys fighting bad guys. It seems like there’s good and bad on both sides. And you know, the funny thing is that sometimes they’re really fighting for the same things.
The kids are helped along the way by some Native Americans. If there were Native Americans living in this area of NJ I would have enjoyed learning something about their specific traditions. Unfortunately, the depiction of the Native Americans is just of the old creeping-gracefully-and-soundlessly-in-mocassins variety.
Back to Ona Judge, my new hero. Simon and Shuster has just published Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, 2017, which I found fascinating. (Not a time travel book, NOR a middle grade or YA book.) In case you’re wondering, yes, the Washingtons did treat their slaves better than did many masters. But without giving Ona any say in the matter, Martha Washington decided to give Ona away to her granddaughter as a wedding present. When Ona ran away, both Washingtons were shocked at her ingratitude, and tried to capture her. But Judge’s quick thinking, as well as assistance from a network of people who opposed slavery, allowed her to elude them. Judge’s story is worth learning.
Geo. Washington’s Socks has a sequel, George Washington’s Spy. For a fresher take on Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, I recommend the recently penned The iPhone that Saved George Washington (my review).
For more middle grade book reviews, follow the links at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.