Calvert and the Battle of Baltimore
Written and illustrated by J. Scott Fuqua
Historical fiction can be a terrific way to introduce young readers to the fascinating days of the past—as long as the history part of the book remains accurate and the story is captivating. Despite some occasionally weak writing, Calvert the Raven and the Battle of Baltimore succeeds in both areas and is an interesting look at one of the most important battles in American history.
Daniel, the book’s protagonist, lives in Baltimore and is not a fan of American history. The book starts with him looking over a report he’s written for school about the War of 1812—a report his teacher has labeled “terrible.” Daniel claims that history makes him fall asleep and doesn’t see the point of learning about some war that happened hundreds of years ago. Then Daniel meets Calvert, a talking raven with the magical ability to whisk Daniel back to the past. Together the two friends go back in time to 1814, where they witness key events in the Battle of Baltimore, including the attack on Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that later became “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Calvert warns Daniel that “History is watery. It goes where it wants,” and the slightest detail could change everything. Throughout the story, Daniel worries and wonders if the United States will win the war or if he will return to a future that is vastly different than the life he is used to.
Despite some annoyingly slangy writing and a predictable plot, Fuqua tells an interesting story and adds many subtle touches to underscore the pain and futility of war. Daniel is an appealing character who young readers will relate to, and I was pleased that he returned to his own time period with a different attitude. The book was developed by Historyworks, Inc., a company headed by the president of the Maryland Historical Society, which gives a strong factual base to the depiction of events of the book. Fuqua notes that he hopes to write a series of books about Daniel and Calvert, taking them to other key events in history.
I recommend Calvert the Raven and the Battle of Baltimore to readers who like American history as well as readers who, like Daniel, aren’t sure there is anything interesting about the past. The fast pace, dramatic situations, and realistic characters will win over even reluctant readers. Second-grade and third-grade readers will enjoy the story. The book would be a great addition to a discussion on American history as well as a great resource for any student looking for an exciting book to read independently. The book would also work as a classroom read-aloud and be a good jumping-off point for creative reading and writing activities.