[This post was originally on my book blog, but I decided to post a slightly different version here for fellow family historians who might be looking for a book on this topic for the kids in their lives]
I've been working on a project at my university where I am slowly but surely adding books in our children's collection to a LibraryThing database (which makes my job helping 120+ students in the children's literature class this fall that much easier). I came across this one a couple days ago and it caught my eye.
Four-time Edgar Award winner and "half-Texan" Joan Lowery Nixon set this mystery for 8-12 year-olds in Texas, and incorporates a historical event and genealogy to boot. Seventh-grader Andy Thomas has to do a family history project for school. His family and that of his best friend J.J. have lived in the (real) town of Hermosa, Texas, for generations, and Andy discovers a black sheep among his ancestors. Talking about this Cole Joseph Bonner upsets and embarrasses Andy's great aunt, particularly around J.J's great-grandmother, but Andy persists in trying to find out just what happened with "Coley Joe."
I loved how Andy uses a box of memorabilia in his great aunt's attic (including a family bible, an old photograph, and an heirloom), e-mail and genealogy bulletin boards (the book was published in 1996), library research (including asking the librarian for help--hooray!), and visits to the local cemetery to help solve the mystery. The Salt War is the real event that provides a setting for part of the story.
I can totally see this book being used for interdisciplinary studies in a 4th to 7th grade classroom, or by a parent to spark a child's interest in genealogy and/or family history (there's a Bonner family tree at the beginning of the book) and ways to research them, updating the story's tools by incorporating websites and social media available today. There are also some nice lessons about friendship and respect for elders in the book as well.
© Amanda Pape - 2010