My five-year-old son, Will, is a huge fan of the Magic Tree House children’s book series. The books, which chronicle 10-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Annie’s adventures back in time by way of a magic tree house, teach children (and adults!) about all sorts of historical events, time periods, regions of the world, groups of people, and endangered animals using a factually-based, age-appropriate, and incredibly entertaining approach.
Last week we started #21 in the series, Civil War on Sunday. As always, Will and I dove headfirst into the book, found ourselves engrossed almost immediately, and continued reading past his bedtime as Jack and Annie rushed an injured soldier across a dangerous battlefield toward the safety of the field hospital in the distance.
Based on my experience with Magic Tree House books, I expected Civil War on Sunday to offer interesting and age-appropriate information about Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Union and Confederate Armies, the end result of the war, and what transpired after slavery was abolished. I didn’t expect, however, that the book would accomplish all of these things by centering its story around the American Red Cross’ very own Clara Barton.
I may have gasped out loud when Clara appeared, and I certainly beamed with pride when Will recognized Clara Barton as a historical figure who “worked for the Red Cross”. (At that point Will was still a little sketchy on the connection between Clara and the American Red Cross.)
The book describes Clara Barton accurately, as a nurse who cared for soldiers – using supplies she purchased with her own money – from both the Union and the Confederate armies during the Civil War. Clara also drove a horse-drawn “ambulance” onto battlefields to help wounded solders, and this willing disregard for her own safety in order to save those who would otherwise be left for dead earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield”. Will thought this was a funny nickname, because as both he and Jack (the little boy in the story) observed, “she doesn’t look like an angel”. Angels come in all shapes and sizes, son…
The story itself never mentions the American Red Cross, but the “Facts for You” section at the end of the book goes into detail about how Clara founded the American Red Cross, which “not only provides relief during times of war but also helps people who have suffered terrible natural disasters, such as hurricanes or floods”.
I love discovering the American Red Cross in my day-to-day life. I love running into someone wearing a Red Cross baseball cap or an “I donated blood today” sticker. I love driving through town and spotting the bloodmobile outside a school or an “I Support the American Red Cross” bumper sticker on the back of a car. I love books and magazines and newspapers that devote pages to the people behind and the mission in front of the organization. But more than anything, I love when opportunities to share these Red Cross connections with my children present themselves.
I’ll be the first to admit that my kids aren’t always all that interested. They don’t really understand blood donations, can’t quite grasp financial contributions, and instead of Red Cross logos would prefer Major League Baseball logos on their baseball caps and Transformer or Hello Kitty logos on their stickers.
But Civil War on Sunday…now that was a Red Cross connection they could wrap their sticky little fingers around. I loved every minute of reading that book to Will, because it allowed me, by way of the story, to teach him about something important to me in a way that made him feel like he was directing his own learning. He will remember why our country fought the Civil War, who Clara Barton was, and how her unwavering commitment to humanity led to an organization that still today feels – at least to me and most likely to people who have received support from the American Red Cross in their darkest hours – a little like magic.