Every day during September and through the end of Banned Books Week (October 2), Business & Heritage Clarksville will run commentary on at least one of the Top 100 Banned Books of the period 2000-2010.
My Brother Sam Is Dead is a story oft the hardships of war and how a young boy deals with a very difficult situation. Tim Meeker is torn between his father, who is loyal to the king of England, and his brother, who supports the Rebel cause. When his brother runs away and his father is captured, Tim is left alone to run the family business.
Author James Lincoln Collier came from a family of writers and teachers, including his father. Collier is a journalist with thirty years of experience; he worked with his brother, Christopher Collier, to create works of historical fiction designed to be fun and educational for children. Christopher Collier was a history professor who gave James historical information as historically accurate background for the stories.
The story is told in the first person by Tim Meeker and details the hardships endured his family during the Revolutionary War. When Tim’s older brother Sam joins the rebel forces, it impacts the rest of his family who wish to remain neutral and/or avoid war with England. Tim’s family is Anglican and thus loyal to the Church of England; a split with England would greatly affect them.
Tim Meeker is a metaphoric symbol of one third of the American population during the war. He portrays the American that is uncertain which side is right and does not wish to choose a side until forced to, sometimes referred to as a “fence-sitter”. am and Life are examples of the other two thirds: the Rebel/Patriot and the Tory/Loyalist.
Through Tim Meeker we learn of the issues, the concerns and the conflicts of the rebellion on a personal level. Each chapter touches on a number of topics and issues that provide readers with a better understanding of the affects the American Revolution had on individuals, their families, their churches, their towns, their neighbors…in short, it allows readers to see the greatest strengths of the novel; it quietly weaves all of the topics and issues of the early years of the American Revolution into a tragic story of a 10 year old boy’s role in a war he doesn’t understand.
My Brother Sam is Dead begins in April 1775 and ends in February 1779…a very volatile period of the American Revolution as it was not clear which side would win the war. Many were either still confused about the issues or unwilling to solidify a position on the issues. As the story unfolds the consequences of the war prove devastating to the Meeker family as the rebelliousness of Tim’s brother, Sam, and the pacifist position taken by Tim’s father, Life, result in the ironic deaths of both, symbolizing the atrocities and unfairness of war.
What is fascinating about this book is its real-life settings in colonial New England at the time of Revolutionary War. The story is set against true history and employs historical characters and events in its telling. As a native New Englander and Revolutionary War History buff, I have traveled through many of these communities absorbing additional elements of their history in the process.
The story is set against a number of Connecticut and New York communities including Danbury which was first settled in 1685 and became a military depot in the Revolutionary War one hundred years later. Other colonies included Fairfield, Horseneck, Norfield, North Salem, Peekskill, New Amsterdam (New York), Redding, Ridgefield and more.
The authors use an interpretative storyline that focuses on the hardships faced by an Anglican family whose eldest son has run away to join the Patriot troops to portray the American Revolution as a civil war.
Because of the novel’s content, most notably an execution and a beheading, it has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number twelve. The fact is in all wars, death is inevitable, a truth that cannot be masked; to do so would be to re-write history. It’s another fact that the Revolutionary War — like all wars — affects entire families, communities and regions in difficult and tragic ways. Understanding that part of war and our history is vital to our education and is a striking reason to look for alternatives to war.
Specifically, My Brother Sam is Dead is challenged because it:
- Contains profanity:In reaction to being smacked in the head by Tim Meeker as she tries to wrestle a letter away from him, Betsy Read shouts “You Little Bastard!
- Contains excessive violence: While observing the British army Tim Meeker experiences the horrific beheading of a slave.
- Mentions alcohol consumption: The Meeker’s own a Tavern.
- Contains unpatriotic views of the American Revolution: The Meeker’s are Anglican’s.
My Brother Sam Is Dead is a Newbery Honor book that was also named a Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association (ALA) and nominated for a National Book Award in 1975. The ALA reports that My Brother Sam is Dead was the twelfth most frequently challenged book in the period from 1990 to 2000, and the 27th most challenged book from 2000 to 2009. .