Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John Brown: Defending the Innocent or Plotting Terror by Nel Yomtov: Book Review

John Brown: Defending the Innocent or Plotting Terror
Author: Nel Yomtov
Publisher: Capstone Press/Capstone, 2014
Age: 8 to 10, Chapter book
Pages: 32

The hanging of abolitionist John Brown in 1859 was controversial, and depending on one’s perspective, his death was either hotly protested or applauded as justly deserved. John Brown believed that slavery was wrong, a growing belief shared by many across the nation in the pre-dawn of the Civil War. Tension was high everywhere. When slavery was suddenly allowed in the new territory of Kansas, Brown and his supporters rushed to the scene in protest. A gun fight broke out and several men thought to be proslavery were killed. Brown was accused of murder and became a wanted man. Later, a raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia to obtain weapons went wrong, and Brown was arrested.

“Was John Brown a hero or a villain?” Yomtov asks. Readers are given the opportunity to ask this question and to see the different sides of Brown. They learn about Brown’s early life and the strong influence his father had on his religious faith and beliefs as an abolitionist. He was also married twice and had twenty children, some who supported his beliefs about slavery. His home was even used for the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape to freedom in the north. Many in the nation reacted to Brown’s arrest. Some respected his courage, while others condemned his actions. Yomtov’s John Brown fits well in the “Perspectives on History” series, complete with glossary, index and resources. Questions are also asked at the end to give students more to think about in their study.

Although written for young children (details are sketchy), Yomtov does a good job at showing the different facets of Brown's life. I liked learning of his background with the Underground Railroad. I was more familiar with his violent past. Some credit the incident at Harpers Ferry with starting the Civil War, which makes studying Brown's life all the more important. 

Copyright 2014 © Sharon M. Himsl


  1. The Civil War was such an important time in our history. Human rights were fought for with a vengeance, and sometimes it looked like no one could win the fight. We still battle these same things today, only on different stages and for different individuals. Who is right and who is wrong? Are there shades of gray? Only God knows the answers, if you ask me. Still, I'd prefer to stand up for all people, regardless of race, creed, gender, financial status, age or anything else you can think of. Thank you for this thought provoking post, Sharon.

  2. You make a good point, MJ. I hope our people will continue to use the law of the land to resolve their differences. The Civil War was our nation's lowest moment in history--neighbors fighting neighbors over one's beliefs. We may snub our noses at other nations in civil war today, thinking they are backwards, but we need to remember we too fought a senseless war--and suffered dearly for it. Slavery was so entrenched in our society; there was likely no other way to rid the nation of this cancer, but the death toll was awful in the end.

  3. So much about history has to do with the perspective of the storyteller. Even what we call a war: the war between the states or the civil war depends upon it. So for John Brown, he was dedicated to his viewpoint when that viewpoint wasn't popular.

  4. True. I sometimes wonder if we lose the 'right' perspective over time. Can we ever really know what happened? Thanks for commenting, Kate.


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