Christopher and James Lincoln Collier
Christopher and James Lincoln Collier
American authors of juvenile fiction, nonfiction, biographies, and young adult novels and nonfiction.
The following entry presents an overview of the Colliers' careers through 2005. For further information on James Lincoln Collier's life and works, see CLR, Volume 3.
The Collier brothers have collaborated on several works of historical fiction and nonfiction for young adults. Christopher, an American history scholar, generally provides the historical framework, while James, an established fiction writer, creates characters who act as representations of various populist responses to historical events. Throughout their canon, the Colliers emphasize that history can be interpreted from many different, viable, and often contradictory perspectives, rejecting the sometimes static recounting of past incidents in school textbooks. The Colliers frequently set their narratives in colonial America and depict major milestones in American history through the experiences of common citizens. Their texts routinely examine such social issues as racism, sexism, personal freedoms, and war within a historical context, suggesting that the past can provide a useful guide to modern social behavior. Their books also fail to gloss over the more unpleasant aspects of American history, which has inspired several censorship challenges against some of their better known works, with small groups of parents accusing the authors with indulging in anti-Americanism, graphic displays of violence, and potentially offensive language. Despite these attempts at censorship, the Colliers have achieved significant recognition within the field of children's literature, having won several prominent honors, most notably, a Newbery Honor citation and National Book Award both for My Brother Sam Is Dead (1974).
James Lincoln Collier was born on June 27, 1928, in New York City, the son of Edmund and Katharine Brown Collier. He married Carol Burrows on September 2, 1952, with whom he had two sons, Geoffrey Lincoln and Andrew Kemp. The couple later divorced, and Collier was remarried to Ida Karen Potash. He earned a B.A. degree from Hamilton College in 1950 and then served in the Army infantry during the Korean War. His first job after the war was working as a magazine editor, a position he held for six years, during which he wrote in his spare time. He quit that position in 1958 and worked as a freelance journalist, specializing in music, particularly jazz, social science reporting, sex education, and related fields. Collier traveled widely in Europe during this period and has lived in Paris and London. An accomplished trombonist as well as writer, Collier has shown a special passion for jazz throughout his career, authoring several books on the subject, including The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History (1978), which was nominated for both the London Observer Book of the Year award and the American Book Award. He has worked as a jazz musician for many years, playing with groups in New York and around the world. He is thought to be the only American writer on jazz to gain official acceptance in the former Soviet Union. Collier's journalism and nonfiction have been published in such publications as Playboy, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, and Horn Book Magazine.
James' younger brother, Christopher, was born on January 29, 1930, in New York City. He married Virginia Wright on August 21, 1954, with whom he has two children, Edmund Quincy and Sally McQueen. The couple later divorced, and Collier married Bonnie Bromberger on December 6, 1969, with whom he has one son, Christopher Zwissler. Collier graduated with a B.A. from Clark University in 1951, later earning an M.A. from Columbia University in 1955 and a Ph.D., also from Columbia, in 1964. He served in the Army from 1952 to 1954. Following his stint in the armed services, Collier taught American history to junior and senior high school students in Greenwich and New Canaan, Connecticut, from 1955 to 1961. Since 1961, he has taught history at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, where he was quickly promoted through the university's academic ranks, from instructor (1961-1964), to assistant professor (1964- 1967), to associate professor (1967-1971), to professor of American history (since 1971), and chairperson of the history department (since 1977). His 1971 historical examination of New England politics, Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution, was nominated for that year's Pulitzer Prize.
The first product of the Collier brothers' literary partnership was the award-winning My Brother Sam Is Dead. In addition to providing an accurate and entertaining rendering of the Revolutionary War, the Colliers' narrative addresses the conflict from several unique perspectives, which are atypical in many young adult historical texts. For example, they present the Revolutionary War—a battle between Great Britain and Colonial America derived from America's desire to free itself of British rule—as an internal war fought between those Americans who were loyal and those who were hostile to British rule. The Colliers construct their story around teenaged Tim Meeker and his family, who raise cattle in a small Connecticut town. When the war enters the Meeker's lives, Tim is torn between siding with his brother Sam, who eagerly joins the American forces to fight the British, and his father, who, fearing the safety of his family and business, staunchly opposes the rebellion. The Colliers followed My Brother Sam Is Dead with several other young adult novels set during the Revolutionary War era. The Bloody Country (1976) tells of the conflict between Pennsylvania and Connecticut for the ownership of the Wyoming Valley, and The Winter Hero (1978) addresses the political and financial hardships brought upon Massachusetts during Shay's Rebellion. Among the Colliers' other works of historical fiction are Jump Ship to Freedom (1981), about a fourteen-year-old boy who is a runaway slave, and War Comes to Willy Freeman (1983), which depicts a young African American girl coping with the loss of her parents. In the Colliers' 1994 Civil War novel, With Every Drop of Blood, Johnny leaves his Virginia farm in the waning days of battle to earn money as a teamster, transporting food to Confederate troops. When he is captured by Cush, an African American who is serving in the Northern army, Johnny must come to terms with his own upbringing and his preconceived knowledge of African Americans.
In addition to their fictional offerings for young readers, the Collier brothers have also written over two dozen nonfiction works in the "Drama of American History" series, tracing American history from the settling of the Americas and the Revolution through the Civil War, the two World Wars of the twentieth century, the Cold War, and to the coming of the new millennium. In so doing, the Colliers have examined a large array of historical topics, including the French and Indian War, the settling of Jamestown, the framing of the Constitution, the importance of cotton to the Southern economy, the rise of industry in America, the situation of Native Americans, immigration to America, and such American political movements as Progressivism.
While the Colliers are best known for their collaborative efforts, James is the more prolific of the two authors and has written several solo works of juvenile fiction and nonfiction. His first solo effort, The Teddy Bear Habit; or, How I Became a Winner (1967), details how teenager George Stable's obsession with his teddy bear leads to his involvement in a jewel theft. Many of James' later juvenile novels deal with young people struggling to overcome adversity, an element that often presents itself in the form of an unsavory parent. Among these books are Give Dad My Best (1976), about a boy forced to care for his family because his father is a down-and-out musician, and Rock Star (1970), which details Tim Anderson's battle to become a successful rock-and-roll guitarist despite his father's disapproval. In Outside Looking In (1987), Collier tells the story of Fergy, a fourteen-year-old boy who runs away after his unscrupulous father steals an expensive motor home. Collier's 1988 offering, The Winchesters, presents a boy caught in the middle of a dispute between his wealthy relatives and a town in economic peril. In My Crooked Family (1991), set in 1910, Collier depicts a young boy's efforts to triumph over poverty and negligent parents. The Jazz Kid (1994) revolves around Paulie Horvath and how his love of jazz transforms his dead-end blue collar existence into a successful career in music. In one of his several solo works of historical fiction, The Corn Raid: A Story of the Jamestown Settlement (2000), Collier constructs the story of yet another youth's efforts to overcome the unfortunate hand that life has dealt out. Twelve-year-old Richard is an indentured servant in colonial Jamestown living in fear of the master who continually beats him. Discovering that the English are planning a raid on the local Indians, he warns the natives, only to feel guilty enough later to tell his master what he has done. When the master subsequently beats Richard, the boy finally stands up to the man and starts planning for the day when he will be free. James Lincoln Collier has also penned several non- fiction series aimed at young audiences, including the "You Never Knew" series of juvenile biographies, which seeks to create unique portraits of such famous historical icons as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Mark Twain, among others, and the "Great Inventions" series, which offers histories of some of the major technological advances of the modern era, including clocks, vaccines, and the automobile.
Among the most prominent and prolific historical writers for children, the Colliers have been honored by the Newbery committee, the National Council for Social Studies, the Children's Book Council, and the National Foundation for the Humanities, among many others. Sharron L. McElmeel has labelled them "masters of the genre," holding their best known work, My Brother Sam Is Dead, as a classic of children's literature that "has both endured and has been recognized by list makers in the teaching and library professions as a readable, entertaining glimpse into a teenager's life in colonial times." Additionally, the American Library Association has called My Brother Sam Is Dead "a sobering tale that will leave readers with a more mature view of history and war." However, for all its honors and commendations, My Brother Sam Is Dead has been among the most challenged works of young adult historical fiction of the twentieth century, ranking as the twelfth most challenged children's book of 1990 to 2000 by the American Library Association. The school districts that have debated the book's viability as a learning tool include Richmond, Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, and Gwinnett, Georgia, with its opponents arguing against the text's use of curse words, graphic violence, and depictions of alcohol consumption by minors. In Cheshire, Connecticut, advocates for the book's removal from school libraries have called My Brother Sam Is Dead "inflammatory propaganda," citing it as an inaccurate "un-American" portrait of the American Revolution. Despite such attacks, My Brother Sam Is Dead has remained widely popular with both teachers and students, with critics such as Kathy G. Short asserting that, "the major appeal of the book is its strong literary quality which meets objectives within an English curriculum. This novel is an excellent one for studying character development because Tim, the young narrator, is a dynamic character who undergoes significant, but believable, change through the course of the novel."
Young Adult Historical Fiction; by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier
My Brother Sam Is Dead (young adult novel) 1974
The Bloody Country (young adult novel) 1976
The Winter Hero (young adult novel) 1978
Jump Ship to Freedom (young adult novel) 1981
War Comes to Willy Freeman (young adult novel) 1983
Who Is Carrie? (young adult novel) 1984
The Clock [illustrations by Kelly Maddox] (young adult novel) 1992
With Every Drop of Blood (young adult novel) 1994
"Drama of American History" Series; by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier
Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (young adult nonfiction) 1986
The American Revolution, 1763 to 1783 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Building a New Nation, 1789 to 1803 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
The Civil War: 1860 to 1866 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Clash of Cultures, Prehistory to 1638 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Cotton South and the Mexican War, 1835 to 1850 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
The French and Indian War, 1660 to 1763 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Hispanic America, Texas, and the Mexican War: 1835 to 1850 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
The Paradox of Jamestown, 1585 to 1700 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Pilgrims and Puritans, 1620 to 1676 (young adult nonfiction) 1998
Andrew Jackson's America, 1821 to 1850 (young adult nonfiction) 1999
A Century of Immigration: 1820 to 1924 (young adult nonfiction) 1999
Creating the Constitution, 1787 (young adult nonfiction) 1999
Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow, 1864 to 1896 (young adult nonfiction) 2000
The Rise of Industry: 1860 to 1900 (young adult nonfiction) 2000
The Rise of the Cities (young adult nonfiction) 2000
Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War, 1831 to 1861 (young adult nonfiction) 2000
Indians, Cowboys, and Farmers and the Battle for the Great Plains, 1865 to 1910 (young adult nonfiction) 2001
The United States in World War Two, 1941 to 1945 (young adult nonfiction) 2001
The Changing Face of America, 1945 to 2000 (young adult nonfiction) 2002
The Middle Road: American Politics, 1945 to 2000 (young adult nonfiction) 2002
The United States in the Cold War: 1945 to 1989 (young adult nonfiction) 2002
Juvenile Fiction by James Lincoln Collier
The Teddy Bear Habit; or, How I Became a Winner [illustrations by Lee Lorenz] (juvenile fiction) 1967
Rock Star (juvenile fiction) 1970
Why Does Everybody Think I'm Nutty? (juvenile fiction) 1971
It's Murder at St. Basket's (juvenile fiction) 1972
Rich and Famous: The Further Adventures of George Stable (juvenile fiction) 1975
Give Dad My Best (juvenile fiction) 1976
Planet Out of the Past (juvenile fiction) 1983
When the Stars Begin to Fall (juvenile fiction) 1986
Outside Looking In (juvenile fiction) 1987
The Winchesters (juvenile fiction) 1988
My Crooked Family (juvenile fiction) 1991
The Jazz Kid (juvenile fiction) 1994
The Corn Raid: A Story of the Jamestown Settlement (juvenile fiction) 2000
The Worst of Times: A Story of the Great Depression [illustrations by David Schweitzer] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Chipper (juvenile fiction) 2001
Wild Boy (juvenile fiction) 2002
The Empty Mirror (juvenile fiction) 2004
Me and Billy (juvenile fiction) 2004
Juvenile Nonfiction by James Lincoln Collier
Battleground: The United States Army in World War II (juvenile nonfiction) 1965
A Visit to the Fire House [photographs by Yale Joel] (juvenile nonfiction) 1967
Which Musical Instrument Shall I Play? [photographs by Yale Joel] (juvenile nonfiction) 1969
Danny Goes to the Hospital [photographs by Yale Joel] (juvenile nonfiction) 1970
Practical Music Theory: How Music Is Put Together from Bach to Rock (juvenile nonfiction) 1970
The Hard Life of the Teenager (juvenile nonfiction) 1972
Inside Jazz (juvenile nonfiction) 1973
Jug Bands and Hand-Made Music (juvenile nonfiction) 1973
The Making of Man: The Story of Our Ancient Ancestors (juvenile nonfiction) 1974
Making Music for Money [illustrations by Robert Censoni] (juvenile nonfiction) 1976
CB (juvenile nonfiction) 1977
The Great Jazz Artists [illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker] (juvenile nonfiction) 1977
Louis Armstrong: An American Success Story (juvenile biography) 1985
Jazz: An American Saga (juvenile nonfiction) 1997
Great Inventions: Clocks (juvenile nonfiction) 2004
Great Inventions: Gunpowder and Weaponry (juvenile nonfiction) 2004
Great Inventions: Vaccines (juvenile nonfiction) 2004
Great Inventions: The Automobile (juvenile nonfiction) 2006
Christopher Columbus: To the New World (juvenile nonfiction) 2006
Great Inventions: Electricity and the Light Bulb (juvenile nonfiction) 2006
Great Inventions: Steam Engines (juvenile nonfiction) 2006
The "You Never Knew" Series; by James Lincoln Collier
The Abraham Lincoln You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The Alexander Hamilton You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The Clara Barton You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The Frederick Douglass You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The George Washington You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The Louis Armstrong You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
The Mark Twain You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
The Sitting Bull You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2003
The Benjamin Franklin You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
The Eleanor Roosevelt You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
The Susan B. Anthony You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
The Tecumseh You Never Knew [illustrations by Greg Copeland] (juvenile biography) 2004
James Lincoln Collier (essay date winter 1987)
SOURCE: Collier, James Lincoln. "Dancing the Literacy Tango." ALAN Review 14, no. 2 (winter 1987): 1-2.
[In the following essay, James Lincoln Collier discusses the collaborative writing process he and his brother Christopher use to compose their canon of young adult historical fiction and nonfiction.]
One of the questions I am asked most about my work is how do my brother and I possibly manage to make a joint venture out of an activity as obviously private and personal as writing a book. The readers' puzzlement is understandable: writing is personal, and private. A writer works from a point of view that is his own. He is always saying this is how I feel about these things; this is the way it seems to me. Indeed, a great deal of what we get from the best writing is a personal view of the world: the irony of Charles Dickens, Hemingway's sense of the world as an adversary, the rueful sentimentality of Laurence Sterne. How, thus, can two people, however close in point of view, bring a single stamp to one work?
In fact, Kit and I, as brothers are likely to, do share to a considerable extent, a common world view. Our parents had roots deep in New England; but they had left their home culture to move into a somewhat artistic, semi-Bohemian culture in New York. We grew up in this mix of cultures, one side of which valued hard work, human decency and a respect for the privacy of others; the other of which valued high-minded intellectuality, adherence to principle and a concern for the truth. (These virtues of course, when pushed too far, can turn into uncharitable inflexibility and self-righteousness.) As far as our writing is concerned, we thus share a view that what we put onto a page ought to be as truthful as we can make it—carefully researched, clearly thought-out and accurately described.
But our approach to writing differs in other ways. Kit sees himself essentially as a teacher, with all that implies. He began his professional career as a seventh grade social studies teacher, and although he moved into college teaching after a few years because he was drawn to scholarship, he has been a teacher all his life. In the books we do together his goal is to awaken students' curiosity—that is, get them to start asking questions. Readers who know our books will have some idea of what those questions are: Was the Revolution necessary? Who in fact were the patriots in that fight? What is economic freedom, and what is worth sacrificing for it? How did the racism which has been so much a part of the American experience became institutionalized? What has it cost us? I think any teacher who is using our books can mine them for questions like these, and undoubtedly find some of which we are unaware.
My approach to writing is different than Kit's. To me a piece of fiction works in some ways like music—a song, a symphony, an improvised jazz chorus. It is something which works on the emotions, and when I write I try deliberately to catch readers up in my story, to make them feel things, and in the end, if I am very lucky, to change their internal landscape a little by showing them a new way of looking at the world. My brother and I, although we are both addicted to the truth, otherwise have different aims in creating our books. How do we manage this?
To begin with, we have agreed that at some point in the process the entire story must pass uninterrupted through one consciousness. This is so that there is a consistency of language, of feeling, of "tone," a hard-to-define quality that is nonetheless present in most good writing, as for example the aforesaid irony of Dickens and the ruefulness of Sterne. Eventually, thus, I will sit down and write the book from start to finish.
But the book begins in Kit's head with a notion he wants to teach, a question he wants to raise in the minds of readers. He casts about for an historical event, or sequence of events, which can illustrate his point. Or rather, the mind being what it is, these arise simultaneously: that is, at one moment he sees both the event, and how he can illustrate a certain point. He then brings the idea to me: there was a black named Jack Arabus who sued for his freedom after the Revolution in an important case, which we might use to say certain things about race in America; there was an actual war between Pennsylvanians and Connecticutters during the Revolutionary period, which might be used to say something about the economic basis of freedom. He fills me in, and then I make a judgment about the dramatic possibilities in the idea. Some of the questions I must ask are: Is the story compact in time, so that it does not require too many flashbacks in telling? Is there plenty of action? Is there natural conflict between various of the major characters? Would our young protagonist realistically have a role in the events, rather than merely observing them?
I have to be very careful about this, for I know that there can be no doctoring of the events, no shifting them about in time for as much as a minute, no changing the locale for as much as a yard. And I—we—have made mistakes. For example, the action in The Bloody Country was spread out over too long a time, and we struggled mightily to keep the story glued together. For another, any time you are writing about slaves the action is perforce limited, which almost invariably means that a slave story must be built around an escape. However, the first two books in the Arabus family trilogy involved runaways. This was not the commonest black experience, and out of respect to the truth we did not want to show another black young person in flight in the third book. Yet a protagonist must always have a purpose, and those who have read Who Is Carrie? will see how we solved the problem—again, not without struggle.
Actually, all of this comes about a good deal more informally than the foregoing implies. We live some fifty miles apart, and talk to each other frequently on business, social or family matters. We may or may not be looking for an idea for a new book; that of course depends on our other commitments. But as it usually works, if Kit comes up with an idea that we get enthusiastic about, we are likely to find a way to do it. He then works up a fairly detailed outline: here's the basic sequence of events, here are the characters, here is a rough story outline. I look it over, test it for dramatic problems and possibilities. We sit down together and adjust the outline as necessary so that the story will be both gripping and get the pedagogical point across.
Now we see our editor—Judy Whipple, now at Macmillan, for the early books, Olga Litowinsky at Delacourt for the more recent ones. We tell Judy or Olga what we want to do, and so far they've agreed; although both always have suggestions about one or another aspect of the books.
The next step is for Kit to supply me with a heap of research—books on the period, scholarly articles on the ideologies involved, maps, drawings, whatever he can find. In addition, either separately or together, we visit the ground where the action will take place. We photograph period houses or features of the landscape, check old maps against new to see how roads and streams may have moved and visit historical museums where they exist.
Once I have digested the research, I sit down and write—pass the story through a single consciousness. It is agreed that I can go anywhere I want with the story at this point. Although of course I write out of the historical background, I feel free to invent as I like, knowing that my brother will in time have an opportunity to check for historical accuracy. The point is for me not to feel constrained: if I have a scene working the way I want, I want to be able to plunge forward as the drama leads, without having to worry about historical detail.
When I have finished a draft, it goes to Kit. His main task is to check the history, but he will also make suggestions about the story line: this scene seems flat, this seems improbable and so forth. We discuss the whole once more. Concerning questions he has raised about the story line, if I feel confident that I am right, he will accept my view, once he has argued his position. But questions of historical fact and interpretation are his province, and I must abide by his judgment. For example, in My Brother Sam Is Dead I wanted, near the beginning, to have the two boys who are at the center of the story to have a discussion out of earshot of their parents, and I set them to washing the dishes in the kitchen. This, my brother said, would not do; at that time males did not wash dishes. I had the boys instead go out to the barn to tend the animals, where they could talk without being overheard.
Once we have sorted out these problems—and sometimes matching the story we want to tell with historical detail requires a good deal of nimble inventiveness so as to subvert neither—I write a complete new second draft, of course shoring up weak points of which I am aware. (I have a tendency to keep forging ahead in the first draft, leaving weak scenes to be dealt with later.) This second draft then goes back to Kit, who goes over it once again, and after further discussion, we make such changes as are necessary. These ought to be minor; but a couple of times I had to do substantial revision on this second draft.
Then it goes to the editor. She will have comments. In most cases these are minor—we need to know a little bit more about A's background; it isn't quite clear why B did such-and-such; we ought to have a stronger reaction from C at this point. We can, of course, reject these editorial suggestions, and at times we have; but we have a tendency to accept them because she is bringing a fresh eye to material we have by this point begun to get a little fed up with. (Both of us are occupied with new projects, and it is always a little irritating to have to turn back to an old one.)
Then, finally it is done. It is clear that one reason why it all works is that there's a pretty strict division of labor in the process. We each have our bailiwicks, and so long as we continue to respect each other's area of expertise—which we do—we can avoid arguments. And in truth, we have not really ever had a serious argument, although we have come a few times to compromises with which neither of us was very happy.
Perhaps the most interesting of our collaborations, to me at least, was in the writing of our recent study of the Constitutional Convention, Decision in Philadelphia. Here we were not dealing with fiction; my role was solely to make readable material of which Kit was entirely in control. I confess that at the outset—we began thinking about the book in 1979—I knew far less about the Constitution than I ought to have. Once again we agreed that for consistency of tone, the whole book would have to pass through one consciousness. We decided then, that Kit would act as my teacher, and take me step-by-step through the Constitutional Convention, following an outline which he had devised. Chapter by chapter he gave me heaps of assiduously gathered material: biographies, endless abstruse monographs on subjects I didn't know existed, maps, copies of old newspapers, lists of ship tonnages and exports from American ports, and much more of the stuff of which historical research is made. Chapter by chapter I studied this material, digested it and worked it up into some sort of coherent form. When we finally finished we had a seven hundred page manuscript that was hopelessly disjointed, confused and in many cases wildly incorrect. But now I understood the Constitutional Convention, and we could begin. It would be two more complete drafts before we had the book in shape; but we got to where we wanted to go.
Collaboration, I think, is always difficult. I would not attempt it with just anyone. It is important to work with someone who can work out ground rules and stick to them, someone who thinks the way you do about most things and, above all someone with whom you can have a measure of mutual respect.
Christopher Collier (essay date winter 1987)
SOURCE: Collier, Christopher. "Fact, Fiction, and History: The Role of Historian, Writer, Teacher, and Reader." ALAN Review 14, no. 2 (winter 1987): 5-8.
[In the following essay, Christopher Collier discusses how fiction can be used to present historical fact through an analysis of his own literary canon, most notably the works of young adult historical fiction he has co-authored with his brother James.]
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Christopher Collier (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Collier, Christopher. "Censored: An Author's Perspective." In Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints,1985-2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, pp. 311-23. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002.
[In the following essay, Christopher Collier discusses the various controversies and censorship challenges that his works of young adult historical fiction—co-authored with his brother James—have faced, most notably, their best-known work, My Brother Sam Is Dead.]
Twelve-year-old Timmy Meeker, struggling with his brother's seventeen-year-old girlfriend over an incriminating piece of paper, slammed her as hard as he could on the side of her head. "You little bastard," shouts Betsy (84). This is a line my brother wrote for one of the climactic moments in My Brother Sam Is Dead. Can it be that all across America ten-year-old girls are sitting in fifth-grade classrooms reading out loud "You little bastard" to their classmates? Judging from the reaction from outraged parents, one would think so. But I doubt it. I haven't yet met a teacher of any experience who would set things up that way. Nevertheless, the use of Brother Sam in classrooms across the country is challenged scores of times every year. In 1996 People For the American Way listed it among America's ten most challenged books—just after Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
The use of profanity and obscenity was not the only reason for the challenge, however. Parents complained about graphic descriptions of battlefield scenes, the consumption of alcohol, and an "unpatriotic" view of the American Revolution. At one large protest meeting, which I attended unrecognized, one woman objected to the book because one of the authors once wrote for Playboy (which is true—but it wasn't me). Although the board of education in this last instance decided to keep the book in the library, often enough the decision is the reverse.
We write these books primarily to teach American history. The bottom line is that students will learn nothing from them unless they read them. They won't read them—and if they do they won't remember what they read—unless the story engages, interests, and excites them. For that to happen we must reach our readers on an emotional level. The scenes we draw must have impact: that means not only intellectual engagement with the ideas we present, but also emotional engagement with the characters we depict. Indeed, though history itself holds unending materials for dramatic narrative, it is difficult to capture the actual emotional content of historical figures' characters. It is a lot more honest and literarily feasible to use fictional characters to personify and imbue with emotion the ideas we want kids to understand and remember. Thus strongly connotative, colorful, and striking words are a major literary tool to create character, context, and their interrelationships, all to bring about real historical understanding.
Dealing with censorship is not new to me. My first encounter with attempts to bar books from classroom use came when I, a new untenured teacher of eighth graders, had a panel of six high-level students read and discuss George Orwell's 1984. This was in the mid-1950s, Joe McCarthy's heyday. They were spooky times. It was on this occasion that I learned the first of the Six Lessons about Censors that I describe here.
Lesson One: The censors have not read the book.
When one of my eighth graders carried home a paperback copy of 1984 with a slightly lurid cover—for 1955—depicting a bosomy young woman wearing a sash across which was emblazoned "Anti-Sex League," my principal heard from my student's mother. To his lasting credit and my lasting gratitude, the principal permitted me to meet in his office with the horrified parent, who also happened to be the reigning president of the PTA. I asked her what she objected to. I was degrading her daughter's taste by giving her communist—remember the era—trash. But what was it in the book that was communist or degrading, I was allowed to persist. I wouldn't read this garbage, said Mrs. PTA.—and she hadn't. Nevertheless, I was told to remove the book from my course, and asked to submit all my future reading lists to the principal. How to squelch young enthusiasm for innovation and excitement in the classroom.
Another episode illustrating Lesson One—censors have not read the book—is much more recent: 1993, in fact. Jump Ship to Freedom follows the risky adventures of a young slave who gets mixed up in the writing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. In the course of the year or so the book covers, Daniel Arabus rejects his view of himself as a stupid nigger and comes to see that he is as brave, smart, honest, and wise as any white person he meets. He grows from "I was black and wasn't as smart as white folks," (2) to "it seems to me that there ain't much difference one way or another … take the skin off of us, and it would be pretty hard to tell which was the white ones and which ones wasn't." (187) A pretty uplifting story, it seems to me. Although readers encounter the word darky as early as page 11, it is not until page 20 that they smash into nigger. One black sixth grader never got past page 2 before complaining to his teacher. The school principal pulled the book from the library shelves; a little tempest brewed and local NAACP officials became involved. In the end, Jump Ship was removed from elementary but not middle-school library shelves, though the teachers "all agreed not to use the book in lessons so as not to offend students."
The fracas generated some interesting comment. "Parents argued," a newspaper account explained, "that the book was dangerous because some students will only flip through the beginning of the book and not read it all." This view raises an intriguing question: Must all books for school use be written so that no single page if read alone will not offend anyone? There is no evidence that any of those objecting to the book ever read it; indeed their comments lead pretty clearly to the conclusion that they did not. I will return to "the N word" later.
Lesson Number Two: Censors are mindless. We often run into situations where editors of anthologized excerpts from our books want to remove words, phrases, whole episodes for whatever editorial reasons—or nonreasons—they might have. Thus the suggestion of one censor to substitute restaurant for the customary 18th-century tavern in a story about the American Revolution. Restaurant is a French word not used in America for two generations after the Revolution. The same censor was told, apparently, to remove all the gods, damns, god damns, etc. In one scene our narrator "began silently to pray, ‘Oh, please God, oh please.’" The censor struck it. That same mindless censor also accepted our substitution of hard cider for wine, apparently wholly unaware that they both have the same alcoholic content. Hard cider is apple wine. The examples of this sort of mindlessness go on and on in uncounted tedium.
Lesson Number Three: Censors don't understand the context of the situation. Much that might appear on first glance to be merely simple mindlessness is often an inability to see the offending element in context. This might, for instance, explain a censor's failure to distinguish profanity from prayer. A common basis for censorship is to strike episodes that appear racist or sexist. Often these episodes are included in order to attack the very attitudes they display. The example of Daniel's racist remarks in Jump Ship to Freedom cited above is a good example. In The Clock we attack raw sexism in the workforce by focusing on a victim of it. We have been challenged for not having Annie stand up to her lecherous supervisor. But that was 1810—which leads me to …
Lesson Number Four: Censors lack historical perspective—even of their own times. Books have been challenged for the use of the word Japs. But anyone who remembers the era of World War II at all knows that Jap was the universally employed term. Read some of the classic books written about that war. In John Hersey's Into the Valley about a battle on Guadalcanal in 1943, not only do the soldiers regularly use the term Jap but Hersey himself uses it in his narrative. Would a battle account of GI dialogue of 1943 ring true if the soldiers referred to their deadly enemies as Japanese? In my other life as a professional historian I work with Indians a good deal. They call themselves Indians. Must we have our frontiersmen in a novel about the expanding west say that the "only good Native American is a dead Native American." Yet I know of a young seventh-grade teacher who says she will not use a book that uses the term Indian. And how do we keep up with what are acceptable terms for Negroes, colored, blacks, African-Americans? Certainly we all agree not to use the word nigger when we can avoid it, but how real would it sound for Confederate troops in 1863 to say Negro—not to mention African-American. Would Huckleberry Finn be the same story if his companion was referred to as African-American Jim?
The lack of historical perspective, however, goes way beyond the use of historically acceptable terms. We have been informally challenged as sexist for having Willy in War Comes to Willy Freeman dress as a boy in order to be able to make her way from place to place through revolutionary era society. Apparently, many parents of young teenagers have so little understanding of the past that they fail to see how difficult—indeed nearly impossible—it would be for a fourteen-year-old black girl to travel alone through New York and Connecticut in 1782. On one occasion we had an editor change a statement made by a Revolutionary Era bandit from "You're acting like a couple of old women" to You're acting like cowards." I think the dialogue loses a lot in that translation. How can youngsters of today ever understand the progress of women over the past generation if they don't know the situation of women in America in the past—indeed the traditional situation of women everywhere?
Lesson Number Five: The concerns of censors change over time. In the 1970s we were not made aware of objections—if there were any—to damns, god damns, even son of a bitches. Objections to profanity (there is virtually no obscenity in our books) rose during the late 1970s and into the 80s. This fits the upward curve of the popularity of fundamentalist Protestantism. In the earlier era, the wake of the Vietnam peace movement, concerns centered on violence as depicted in our battle scenes. More recently, we have encountered objections to depictions of alcohol drinking—indeed, even the word tavern as I have already noted. And even more recently there have been the alleged violations of sex and racial sensitivities. Sometime, if you just wait long enough, the censors will lose interest, though you can be sure that new ones—or the same old ones—will appear with new concerns. They are always there.
Lesson Six: I have met the enemy and I am them.
Historians, of course, study change over time, and Lesson Six is one that time—not any censor—taught me. If an author is lucky enough to see his books still in print and selling briskly a generation after he wrote them, he must confront the very real possibility of a disjuncture between the audience he wrote the books for and the audience that is now reading them. The publishers of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift routinely update their old tales. It is especially true of the past thirty years that social change has been profound and rapid. The connotations expressed by certain words are not the same in 1998 as they were in 1974.
In 1939 Clark Gable's famous Gone with the Wind "damn!" was a shocker, to today's audiences it doesn't mean a thing. What I have seen over the past decade or so, however, is the reverse of the loss of shock value in certain words. Where damns, god damns, hells, and Jesus Christ were strong shockers for fifth graders, but to their parents quite unexceptionable in 1974, this is no longer the case.
About ten or twelve years ago we began to hear from our middle-school readers complaints about the "swears" in our books. Why did we have to use them? I have already responded to that question. The one I want to deal with now, is what do you do when the social and intellectual climate changes so much that words have a different effect on readers—indeed even mean something quite different to them?
Same words—different meaning. Similarly, in the verbal context of the early 1970s, the full and steamy wake of the free speech movement of the previous decade, it took a damn or a hell to carry any emotional weight. The Bloody Country, for example, is full of them, even on occasion in the mouths of nine-year-olds.
But the free speech waters rose to flood tide and beyond. The filth of speech on television and in films today has become so outrageous that a backwash was sure to come, and the tide ebbed with a rush. Parents are so disgusted with obscenities in the media that they are now much more aware and concerned about their kids' verbal encounters at school. Indeed, even some of the kids are concerned.
Thus a goddamn in 1998 carries a much heavier impact, believe it or not, than it did in 1974—or so, at least, our letters and conversations with young teenagers and their parents tell us. Indeed, that is the Lesson Six that I learned. I recently reread The Bloody Country, and found many of the curse words and especially the use of nigger, unnecessary, even grating on occasion. The lesson, of course, is that if the intellectual or cultural perspective of the readership changes, there can be actual changes in the received meaning of certain words. Thus what is not censorable in one era might certainly well be in another. The great question is, what should an author of a frequently reprinted book do about it? If the words on the page no longer get the intended response—one which they once did, should an author, given a chance, alter the words in his original? Should he, in other words, censor himself?
This gets me to the central authorial question. If you know certain elements of a situation are liable to offend some influential readers, why don't you just omit or change them? Let me tell you a story.
I earlier described the wrestling bout of Timmy and Betsy in My Brother Sam Is Dead over a note Timmy was carrying to Loyalist spies. In this scene Timmy fails in his effort to participate in the war and becomes thereafter an increasingly confused and distressed onlooker. In his political development it is a climactic moment. We had to give it some emotional impact. When the first draft came to me with Betsy's "You little bastard," (84), I called my brother to tell him that the teenage daughter of the town's most respectable family would not have used that word. Not that folks in the olden days didn't—they used every word we do today, not excluding the f— one. But Betsy wouldn't. "OK," says James, "what would she say?" "You little viper; you snake," I suggested. "Oh, come on; we're writing for teenagers in 1974. Those words carry no force at all." I had to agree; the literary needs outweighed the historical ones.
Over the years, I have asked hundreds of middle-school kids to suggest a phrase that their mothers would accept, but that would pack the same wallop. The best they have come up with so far goes like this:
Then she jumped me. She caught me completely by surprise. She just leaped onto me and I fell down backwards and she was lying on top of me, trying to wrestle her hands down inside of my shirt. "Goddamn you, Betsy," I shouted. I grabbed her by her hair and tried to pull her head back, but she jerked it away from me. I began kicking around with my feet trying to catch her someplace where it would hurt, but she kept wriggling from side to side on top of me and I couldn't get in a good kick. I hit her on the back but in that position I couldn't get much force. "Get off me, Betsy."
"Not until I get that letter," she said. She jerked at my shirt, trying to pull it up. I grabbed at her hands and twisted my body underneath her to turn over so I would be on top, but she pushed her whole weight down on me, grunting. So I slammed her as hard as I could on the side of the head.
"You little bastard," she shouted. She let go of my shirt with one hand and slapped me as hard as she could across my face. My nose went numb and my eyes stung and tears began to come.
Then she jumped me. She caught me completely by surprise. She just leaped onto me and I fell down backwards and she was lying on top of me, trying to wrestle her hands down inside of my shirt. "Curse you, Betsy," I shouted. I grabbed her by her hair and tried to pull her head back, but she jerked it away from me. I began kicking around with my feet trying to catch her someplace where it would hurt, but she kept wriggling from side to side on top of me and I couldn't get in a good kick. I hit her on the back but in that position I couldn't get much force. "Get off me, Betsy."
"Not until I get that letter," she said. She jerked at my shirt, trying to pull it up. I grabbed at her hands and twisted my body underneath her to turn over so I would be on top, but she pushed her whole weight down on me, grunting. So I slammed her as hard as I could on the side of the head.
"You bloody skunk," she shouted. She let go of my shirt with one hand and slapped me as hard as she could across my face. My nose went numb and my eyes stung and tears began to come.
A third version of the same episode was presented in an expurgated edition of the book that Scholastic put out (without consulting us) for its club distribution. I goes like this (96-97):
Then she jumped me. She caught me completely by surprise. She just leaped onto me and I fell down backwards and she was lying on top of me, trying to wrestle her hands down inside of my shirt. I grabbed her by her hair and tried to pull her head back, but she jerked it away from me. I began kicking around with my feet trying to catch her someplace where it would hurt, but she kept wriggling from side to side on top of me and I couldn't get in a good kick. I hit her on the back but in that position I couldn't get much force. "Get off me, Betsy."
"Not until I get that letter," she said. She jerked at my shirt, trying to pull it up. I grabbed at her hands and twisted my body underneath her to turn over so I would be on top, but she pushed her whole weight down on me, grunting. So I slammed her as hard as I could on the side of the head.
She let go of my shirt with one hand and slapped me as hard as she could across my face. My nose went numb and my eyes stung and tears began to come.
Perhaps opinion will differ as to which version makes the most memorable impression. My brother and I often disagree. But on this one, we do not.
When kids ask why we use all the "swears" in our books, I try to explain that you just can't have soldiers in battle saying "Goll ding it, I've been hit," or "I'm shot, good gracious." Readers know that is not what they said; the story would lose credibility and we would lose readers. Look again, for instance at John Hersey's 1943 battle account I mentioned earlier. The much lesser public tolerance for profanity at mid century forced writers into pallid representations of dialogue.
Hersey's battle hardened GIs use phrases like "You can bet your shirt." One Marine captain, in rallying his scattering troops in the heat of deadly combat, says "Gosh, and they call you marines." Now we know he didn't say "gosh," and the use of the word in this context fails utterly to capture the spirit and emotion of the moment and casts an aura of unbelievability over the whole account.
Finally, let's confront the N word. The Bloody Country —on one level about interstate relations during the Confederation years—is on another level about the relative balance of property values and human values in the formative era of United States history. Ben Buck is the son of a mill owner—property values obviously symbolized by both the mill and the name Buck. His closest friend is the family slave, Joe Mountain. In the course of the story Ben realizes that if he loses the mill, he will end up a wage slave working for someone else and with little freedom of action or independent control over his life. Joe, on the other hand, learns that the only way he can gain his freedom is to get away from the mill. Ultimately he runs away.
We first encounter the N word on page 3. Joe was half Mohegan, and Ben says, "You're an Indian yourself." "Hell, I'm not an Indian," Joe Mountain says, "I'm a nigger." "Besides, if I'm not a nigger, how come I belong to your father? Indians can't be slaves, only niggers." (4) This begins the development of our theme of the universal need for individual freedom. In the era of American slavery from the mid-17th century to 1865, whites—North and South—did not like to use the word slave. Note, for instance, that the U.S. Constitution written in 1787 condones the institution by referring to slaves as "persons … held to service or labor" and "persons imported." Nigger was a less embarrassing euphemism for slave. It was universally used that way. But let's try our dialogue again. Ben says "You're an Indian yourself." "Hell, I'm not an Indian," Joe Mountain says, "I'm a Negro." "Besides, if I'm not a Negro, how come I belong to your father? Indians can't be slaves, only Negroes." Try it again substituting African-American for Negro. Do you see what I mean?
Our use of the N word is intended to deepen the depiction of the misery of slavery and of the degraded status of free blacks as well. Most of our readers are white. It is our effort to convey to them the trials of people of African ancestry in North America. We want youngsters to understand the difficulties of growing up black in America. We think this is necessary for them to think knowledgeably and wisely about contemporary conditions about which they, as adult citizens, will have to make decisions affecting their own and others' lives. Without knowledge of the horrors and misery of the black—especially, slave—experience that has embarrassed America for centuries, future citizens cannot confront intelligently the racism that so degrades the nation. And without confronting it, they cannot rectify it.
This is our fundamental objective in the Arabus Trilogy. In War Comes to Willy Freeman we try to show the problems faced by the most powerless people—young, black, female, and slave. But in the end Willy struggles through, not happily, but free, at least. In Jump Ship to Freedom, Daniel learns firsthand the searing ambiguity of a Constitution for white freedom and black slavery. And in Who Is Carrie? our little black girl faces the awful future of never knowing if she is slave or free. In all of these novels the word nigger is unavoidable if anything close to historical verisimilitude is to be drawn. But beyond that, the word is necessary in order to portray the horrible condition of enslaved African-Americans in a way that evokes an emotional response that draws the reader into the story.
We know that our approach to the historical roots of the nation's race problem works. These books are used in largely black-populated inner city schools. We get approving fan letters from students there. One eighth grader wrote from New Jersey, "This week I picked up the book Jump Ship to Freedom and I could not put it down. I am a black girl who of course has heard many things about the black situation but I've never really got into it. When I read this book, a whole new world opened up to me. My mother is buying the other two volumes today.
"Thank you for writing these books. Sometimes children my age with all the things I have and my beautiful home need to experience other things." Indeed, an eighth-grade teacher wrote from Austin, Texas, after having read Willy and Jump Ship asking for a photo: "I really do think that many of my students will be surprised to discover that you are of African-American descent." After seeing my picture, she wrote, "I still plan to use your books during Black History month"
It should be clear by now that as we write we use neither curse words nor racial slurs without giving them thorough consideration. We do not use nigger when some other term will do as well. Nor do we say goddamn when we could say gosh with just as great an effect. As a matter of fact, the number of complaints we received from middle schoolers about "swears" in our books caused us to write our last two books with almost none. It was not easy. A partial solution was to make the two fourteen- or fifteen-year-old protagonists in With Every Drop of Blood old-fashioned fundamental Christians, given to quoting the Bible rather than spouting profanity. In that book we got rid of much of the profanity that would have been standard among soldiers, and we tried to use the N word only when absolutely necessary. In this scene fourteen-year-old Johnny has just been cap- tured by a black Union soldier, Cush, and wrestles with his world turned upside down. "Taking orders from a darky was another shock, especially one my own age. It was just the strangest thing, for I'd never heard a darky even speak back to a white person, much less give them orders." This works, but wouldn't the sense of shock and role reversal be a lot more intense if the N word was used instead of darky? And, in any event, are 20th-century African-Americans any less offended by darky than nigger?
The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom has all sorts of guides and other materials to help deal with efforts at school and library censorship—more especially how to head it off at the pass before it erupts into a major community battle. But I have a few suggestions that might help avoid even the thought of challenging the books you choose to use in class. Make sure your books are grade level appropriate. Consider carefully whether you should read them to students, have students read out loud in class, silently in class, or at home. Communities differ radically in their tolerance for obscenity, profanity, and racial and gender slurs. Be sensitive to those levels of tolerance. But in the end, the choice of classroom materials belongs to the professional, not the parents. Parents may know what is best for their own children, but teachers are better judges of what's best for the whole class.
Collier, James L. and Christopher Collier. The Bloody Country. New York: Macmillan. 1976.
———. The Clock. New York: Delacourt, 1992.
———. Jump Ship to Freedom. New York: Dell, 1981.
———. My Brother Sam Is Dead. New York: Four Winds Press, 1974.
———. War Comes to Willy Freeman. New York: Dell, 1987.
Hersey, John. Into the Valley. New York: Knopf, 1943.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Viking, 1963.
Sharron L. McElmeel (essay date September-October 1996)
SOURCE: McElmeel, Sharron L. "Author Profile: Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier." Book Report 15, no. 2 (September-October 1996): 28-30.
[In the following essay, McElmeel provides a profile of the Collier brothers, with particular emphasis on their collaborative historical fiction for young adults.]
The brothers Christopher and James Lincoln Collier have been writing historical fiction for young people since the early 1970s and are generally recognized as masters of the genre. Their first collaboration, My Brother Sam Is Dead (Four Winds, 1974), was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1975. Just two years ago it received a Phoenix Award, given to a book over 20 years old that has endured even if it wasn't an award winner when it was first published.
My Brother Sam … has both endured and has been recognized by list makers in the teaching and library professions as a readable, entertaining glimpse into a teenager's life in colonial times. It also launched the Collier bothers on a collaborative career that gives middle school and junior high readers fictional young people to remember among the dates and places studied in history classes.
One other indication that the book "endures" is its appearance in the 1990s on the list of titles that have been challenged by would-be book banners. The brothers were born in New York City, where their father was a writer of short stories about the Old West, who also wrote several biographies of western heroes for young adults. Both brothers gravitated toward their father's profession as a writer although their subjects were different.
Christopher, the younger brother shared his father's interest in history. After college he taught social studies in Connecticut Junior and senior high schools. Later he earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University and has taught American history at the college level since 1961. In 1985, he was named Connecticut State Historian.
As a professor and historian, Christopher writes scholarly articles, monographs, and books. His book Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution (Wesleyan University Press, 1971) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
In his separate writing career, James Collier was editing a magazine, writing articles, adult novels, and nonfiction children's books, often about music and musicians, and playing the trombone in a New York City jazz band. His books have been nominated for National Book Awards and the American Book Award. One of his most acclaimed titles is The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History (Houghton Mifflin, 1978).
James's books for children and teenagers range from a photo essay on fire houses to comic novels to books on musical theory: One of his first books for young readers explained military maneuvers in World War II, Battleground (Norton, 1965). He has also written biographies of jazz musicians for both young readers and for an adult audience. His books for adults includes one novel, published in 1960.
For years the two writers talked of writing a book for young readers together. Christopher notes, "After about 15 years of hounding, he [James] finally agreed to help me out."
Nine novels later, the brothers' collaboration process has evolved into a standard pattern of interaction. Christopher starts the exchange with an idea for teaching a historical period or a concept to their readers. "When I was teaching eighth grade, I thought that kids would learn better and remember more if they learned history through really exciting—but true—novels."
After identifying the event and the general setting, Christopher researches every aspect of the time period, from the terrain and weather to the foods, clothing, and household utensils. He also creates profiles of the characters who might be included in the story. He researches names (to be sure they are authentic for the time), writes descriptions of the characters, fleshes out the details of the setting, and makes notes about everything that might be needed to make the story authentic.
"Almost everything that we put in our books really did happen to someone—though not always to the people who live in our stories," says Christopher. Some of the incidents are made up, but, according to the author, they "are easy to believe," because they are based on the careful research into time and place. Some episodes that are "harder to believe" are true. As an example, he points to one scene in which "two men are swept off an 18th century brigantine-and with the next wave one of them is swept back on again. Amazing, but it really happened."
Once Christopher has done the research, from his home in Connecticut, and outlined the story, he sends the outline to James in New York City. As James writes the first draft, he may need yet more facts from Christopher. For example, if the characters are leaving their home to go to a nearby town, James might need a description of the countryside and a route the characters would likely take. A mealtime scene might require some details about the type of food available in that season or the type of tableware, if any.
The Colliers are meticulous about the facts in their books. A manuscript will be passed back and forth until each is comfortable that it is both accurate in every detail and exciting in plot and action. James says his job is to make the book "very exciting so kids are going to stay with it," and Christopher views the stories as a "better way to teach history." Both keep those points in mind as they review the drafts.
After James produces the final draft Christopher gives it a final, extensive facts check before it goes to the publisher. When the brothers were writing about the decapitation of the slave Ned in My Brother Sam Is Dead, Christopher visited the site and measured distances so that every move and action would be portrayed as accurately as possible. They even used the exact words reportedly said by the British officers.
Their insistence on accuracy sometimes portrays a past that offends popular notions about our forbearers or current "political correctness." Their research shows that the colonial period was characterized by heavy drinking, families broken by death, and the subordination of women, children, and slaves.
The books have been challenged by some groups for profane and derogatory language. The brothers defend their accurate depiction of the attitudes and social mores of the eras they write about by pointing out, for example. that "during the American Revolution, African Americans were referred to as ‘niggers.’" To have avoided using the term would have rendered their writing less than credible, they believe. In the same vein, empowering their female characters would have created a false picture of the times.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing about a time before sound recordings were possible is determining how people spoke. The characters in their books speak in modern English. That decision was made by the Colliers partly to make the story easier to read and partly because they had no way to verify speech patterns or dialects.
In each book, a feature that should delight history teachers and report writers is the end-of-the-novel section called How Much of This Book Is True? In a page or two, the brothers tell readers which characters are based on real people found in their searching of primary sources (government records, newspapers, and even gravestones) and which characters and events are "their inventions" based on their study of the times.
Christopher adds, "Truth is often more interesting than fiction. A combination of both is what makes our books historical fiction."
The first three of the Colliers' novels are set during the American Revolution. Each focuses on a distinct conflict that grew out of the convictions and attitudes held by the people of the times. My Brother Sam Is Dead deals with the divided loyalties within families and among the residents of the colonies. The Bloody Country exposes a conflict between two of the new states—Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The Winter Hero deals with the factors that led to the Shays' Rebellion.
Three more books form a second trilogy that follows the black Arabus family in post-Revolutionary days. These novels describe the perilous line between freedom and slavery for blacks who lived in the North from 1781 to 1790. In War Comes to Willy Freeman, even African Americans who had "bought" their freedom were always dangerously close to being returned to slavery by the greedy and dishonest. Willy's father fought, and died, in the Revolutionary War, which should have ensured the freedom of his daughter. In their novel, the Colliers put Willy at the heart of a real court decision that was the basis to assure the freedom of some 300 African-American soldiers in Connecticut. In Jump Ship to Freedom, slaves are used as bargaining chips in the drafting of the Constitution. Who Is Carrie? portrays the most powerless people in post-revolutionary America—a female slave child.
Both Jump Ship to Freedom and War Comes to Willy Freeman were named a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies by the National Council for Social Studies and the Children's Book Council.
The next two novels move forward to the industrial revolution and the Civil War. The Clock is set in 1810 Connecticut and deals with the exploitation of workers in the early textile mills. The Colliers' only book set in the Civil War era is also their most recent, With Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War (Delacorte). In this tale a 14 year old who is attempting to get food to the Rebel forces in Richmond, Virginia, is captured by a black Union solider.
The brothers have collaborated on one history written for adult readers, which is certainly accessible to and informative for high school readers, Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Conventional of 1787 (Random House, 1986). While co-authoring historical fiction for middle school readers, the Colliers have also continued their own individual pursuits.
Phyllis Graves (review date April 1999)
SOURCE: Graves, Phyllis. Review of Hispanic America, Texas, and the Mexican War: 1835 to 1850 and The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812, 1800 to 1823, by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 45, no. 4 (April 1999): 145.
Gr. 5 Up—The Colliers preface both of these books [Hispanic America, Texas, and the Mexican War: 1835 to 1850 and The Jeffersonian Americans: The Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812, 1800 to 1823 ] with their clearly outlined views on historical studies for this audience. Rather than provide numerous details, they would rather "draw in bold strokes, providing enough information, but no more than is necessary, to bring out the basic themes of the American story, and what they mean to us now." This perhaps explains the lack of quotations, footnotes, and other references usually found in more scholarly works. The authors believe that "it is surely more important for students to grasp the underlying concepts and ideas … than to memorize an array of facts and figures." Their emphasis seems to be on telling the story in a smoothly flowing, carefully constructed narrative that conveys certain generalized conclusions about events of the period. In that, they do succeed. The books have a highly appealing format, with colors used to set off chapter headings. Full-color illustrations, including engravings, photos, original paintings, portraits, and cartoons of the time period, clarify cultural and historical events. Both titles have extensive indexes and separate bibliographies for students and teachers. They also have colorful maps. Unfortunately, some of those in Hispanic America are inaccurate or unclear. In one, the Gads- den Purchase is incorrectly labeled as the Louisiana Purchase. In another, the colors in the key do not exactly match the colors on the map, reducing its clarity and effectiveness. In the map showing "Spanish Explorers in the American South," the colors of the lines representing each explorer's route are similar, requiting effort on the part of readers to distinguish who went where. The dates given for the Utah Territory are 1890-1861. Attractive but flawed introductory volumes.
Coop Renner (review date March 2000)
SOURCE: Renner, Coop. Review of A Century of Immigration: 1820 to 1924 and The Rise of Industry: 1860 to 1900, by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 46, no. 3 (March 2000): 249.
Gr. 5-8—Although many history books for children aim only at an objective presentation of the facts, the Colliers have opted for interpretational history [with A Century of Immigration: 1820 to 1924 and The Rise of Industry: 1860 to 1900 ]. As the series preface states, the authors are interested in "citizenship education" and in presenting "the basic themes of the American story, and what they mean to us now." In Immigration, they explain that conditions in the immigrants' homelands and in the U.S., including racial and ethnic prejudice, class distinctions, and maltreatment of the powerless by the powerful, created the vast waves of movement that had such an impact on this country in the 19th century. Yet, only a generation or two later, immigrants or their children often expressed anti-immigrant sentiments against new arrivals. Likewise, in Industry, the tremendous economic boon to the U.S. is not trumpeted to the exclusion of the abuse of workers—including children—by early industry giants, and the deep philanthropy of some figures is explicitly tied to the wealth gained by owners at the expense of employees. By focusing on broad themes, the Colliers are able to show cause and effect over several decades and to make the sweep of time "bite-sized" and intelligible. The frequent full-color and black-and-white period photographs and engravings effectively supplement and enrich the texts.
Rita Soltan (review date January 2004)
SOURCE: Soltan, Rita. Review of The Abraham Lincoln You Never Knew and The George Washington You Never Knew, by James Lincoln Collier, illustrated by Greg Copeland. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 143.
Gr. 4-6—Dispelling some of the myths and legends about each man [in The Abraham Lincoln You Never Knew and The George Washington You Never Knew ], Collier offers biographical and historical accounts in a free-flowing style that elicits compassion, understanding, and awareness through each president's feelings, beliefs, and child/adult circumstances. The story of each man's life is enhanced by a compelling narrative about contemporary historical events and a clear rationale for the lifestyle and politics of each period. Lincoln presents an excellent summary of the Civil War period in an unbiased fashion, explaining the economic advantages and disadvantages for both the Northern and Southern states, key players, and Lincoln's evolving opinion on slavery. Washington recounts the incidents leading up to the Revolutionary War and offers a lucid explanation of the development of our present government structure with its separation of powers. Both texts are enhanced with original drawings and reproductions of photographs and art pieces. The one unfortunate omission is the absence of source notes for the feelings, thoughts, and dialogue. Succinct, interesting, and impressive additions.
Jean Gaffney (review date April 2005)
SOURCE: Gaffney, Jean. Review of The Louis Armstrong You Never Knew, The Mark Twain You Never Knew, and The Tecumseh You Never Knew, by James Lincoln Collier, illustrated by Greg Copeland. School Library Journal 51, no. 4 (April 2005): 148.
Gr. 4-8—Collier adds three titles [The Louis Armstrong You Never Knew, The Mark Twain You Never Knew, and The Tecumseh You Never Knew ] to this inviting series. The style is traditional, beginning with the childhoods of the featured men and covering their lifetime achievements. The author includes the forces that shaped each individual, as well as his strengths and weaknesses. Source notes and suggested titles for further reading are surprisingly scant. Information about personal lives is abbreviated. For example, readers learn about Armstrong's first wife but no others are mentioned except for a picture of his fourth wife near the end. Excellent photographs bring Armstrong and Twain to life. A mix of realistic paintings and reproductions depict Tecumseh's life. Easy-to-read type on spacious white pages may tempt children into reading biographies.
MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD (1974)
Herbert N. Foerstel (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: Foerstel, Herbert N. "My Brother Sam Is Dead." In Banned in the U.S.A.: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries, pp. 194-96. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Foerstel details the various censorship challenges that have been brought against My Brother Sam Is Dead, primarily objections to the novel's profanity and violence.]
Synopsis and Background: James Collier is a professional writer with many juvenile titles to his credit, while his brother Christopher is a professor of history specializing in the American Revolution. The authors state that the Meeker family depicted in the book [My Brother Sam Is Dead ] is fictitious, but most of the other events and characters are real. The setting for this Newbery Honor Award-winning novel is Redding, Pennsylvania, during the tense period preceding the bloody American Revolution. Eleven-year-old Tim Meeker has confused loyalties. Although his parents feel no strong loyalty to England's King George III, they are strongly opposed to revolutionary violence. On the other hand, Tim's sixteen-year-old brother Sam is caught up in the clamor for liberation and independence, and he joins the rebel army to serve under Captain Benedict Arnold. Sam later returns to the Meeker home to steal his father's musket, and Tim tries unsuccessfully to talk him out of it. As the violence of the war grows, Tim's father is taken prisoner, and he subsequently dies on a prison ship. Tim becomes sickened by the wanton destruction and death of war. In late 1778, Sam's regiment encamps near Redding, and he steals away from his post to visit his family. Sam is subsequently court-martialed and sentenced to death, and despite pleas for leniency from Tim and his mother, Sam is executed by firing squad. Years later, Tim looks back on the revolution and the way it destroyed his family. We share his doubts about whether the same ends could have been achieved without war.
Selected Challenges in the 1990s: In 1990, the Richmond, Ohio, Board of Education removed My Brother Sam Is Dead from the curriculum of fifth-grade classes after a parent complained that the book contained words such as bastard, goddamn, and hell. The school board president said the books were removed from the curriculum because the board heard from no supporters of the book, but a fifth-grade teacher said she had been advised to express her support through the school principal. The elementary school librarian who had recommended the book to teachers asked, "Is the next step going to be that they want me to take the book from the library? That frightens me."1
In 1991, a parent in Greenville, South Carolina, objected to My Brother Sam Is Dead and four other books being taught in the district schools. In January 1991, a petition signed by 864 people asked the school board to take the five books off the district's approved reading list. However, a materials review committee recommended that the books be maintained on the list, and the board accepted that recommendation, stating that approving or disapproving of individual books was not the board's function. The policy upheld by the board allowed parents to request that alternative books be assigned to their children.
In 1992, parents in Cheshire, Connecticut, objected to My Brother Sam Is Dead, used in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms and available in the school library, alleging that the book contained graphic violence and an inaccurate depiction of the Revolutionary War—this despite the fact that the author is Connecticut's state historian and an authority on the Revolutionary War. Objectors claimed that the book's violent passages were inappropriate for elementary school students and described the book as inflammatory propaganda. The objectors complained about the book at several school board meetings and circulated a petition against it at a local church. However, they failed to follow the district's reconsideration procedure and never filed a formal complaint. The book therefore remained on the library shelf and in use in the classroom.
1. Reprinted with permission of the American Library Association from the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, March 1990, p. 48.
Sharon Scapple (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: Scapple, Sharon. "Divided Loyalties: Why Is My Brother Sam Dead?" In The Phoenix Award of The Children's Literature Association 1990-1994, edited by Alethea Helbig and Agnes Perkins, pp. 269-72. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996.
[In the following essay, Scapple characterizes My Brother Sam Is Dead as a young adult novel meant to engender questions about the cost of war, even when such conflicts are waged for seemingly important reasons.]
In response to the numerous comments he had received regarding how My Brother Sam Is Dead had finally offered something "new" on the American Revolution for young readers, Christopher Collier asserted that what was perceived as novelty was really a presentation of complex issues, something then lacking in juvenile literature. His intent was to incorporate elements of both the Whig and Progressive interpretations, "with strong emphasis on the latter," because he believed that a one-sided view commonly prevailed. He has cited Johnny Tremain as a text to reckon with, which is predominantly Whig, nineteenth-century Bancroftian. Collier wanted to "fill an historiographic gap …" (Horn Book 132). And he wanted to introduce the Progressive interpretation which views the war for Independence as "only part of a civil war that pitted brother against brother as aristocratic and popular interests struggled to control the policy-making machinery of their respective colonies" (Horn Book 135).
According to Collier, Brother Sam (written in collaboration with his brother, James Lincoln Collier) moved well beyond other children's books which, "for the most part … [were] merely stories laid in the period and given verisimilitude by incorporating authentic detail" (Horn Book 136). Arising from Collier's commitment to provide readers with "some raw reality to chew on," Brother Sam was born (Horn Book 138). And, for readers, quite naturally arise questions of why brother Sam is dead. What were the complexities the Colliers addressed that gave this text its notoriety and singularity? What were the aspects of Revolutionary life which led to political choices and divided loyalties?
Three voices are distinct in expressing the trials and betrayals of those war years; three voices all from one family living in Redding, Connecticut, each speaking about different loyalties: to Family, God, King, Nation, Brethren. One voice, that of young Tim Meeker, the narrator, is confused and cannot make sense of the other two: his Patriot brother and his father, who is loyal to the King, but who does not proclaim himself a Tory.
Quite early in the story, Tim admits that all his life he had heard arguments about whether the colonists ought to rebel or obey the King. What confuses him the most is that the conflict does not have two sides as arguments should, but "about six sides" (25). Some people say the King is King and should be obeyed; others believed people are to be free and the Lobster-backs should be driven out of the country. Still others believe that being born English they will die English; yet, they think they should have more say about how they are to be governed. Some want New Englanders to join together, and some want all the colonies to unite. Tim's statement that Sam's side is sometimes called Patriot and sometimes called Rebel encapsulates his confusion (25-26).
Tim is young and so is his view of war. He is impressed by Sam's uniform and envies him for the glory of soldiering. Sometimes after Patriot officers drink at the tavern, he watches them leave, wondering which side he would choose if he were to become a soldier. He concludes that the "British had the best uniforms and the shiny new guns, but there was something exciting about the Patriots—being underdogs and fighting off the mighty British army" (65). On more than one occasion he wonders what it would be like to shoot someone. He does realize, though, that if he were to fight Loyalist, his target could someday be Sam, his own brother.
Quite often and, in fact, throughout most of the novel, Tim is confused about the war, about who is on what side and why. He tries not to worry about it, but when his father is struck by a Rebel soldier searching for weapons, Tim realizes war has come to Redding. It is beginning to touch him personally. Later, after his father is captured by the cowboys (Rebel troops looking for beef), Tim is prompted to call himself a Tory.
Within a few months, however, Tim's allegiance switches to the Patriot cause. Quite understandably he is impressed when the British troops march into Redding "as if nothing in the world could stop them" (136). Yet he is uncomfortable knowing that while Mr. Heron, a surveyor and supposed Tory, has invited the British officers into his house, some hundred yards away Patriots are planning to kill them. When the British strike Captain Starr's house and Tim witnesses the black slave's decapitation—"Ned's head jumped off his body and popped into the air"—he … "[doesn't] feel much like being a Tory any more" (145).
After another year and half, the hazards of war have diminished his spirit; at age fourteen Tim hates the war and regrets not doing what would have been normal, going to school and making his way in the world. When Sam is arrested for stealing the family's cattle, Tim is "angry and bitter and ready to kill somebody. If … [he] only knew who" (200). In the end, he is loyal to his brother, Sam, and tries to save Sam's life while nearly losing his own. Sam dies; Tim's shoulder is grazed by gunshot; and, for the rest of his life the thought lingers as to whether there could have been ways other than war to be free of British governance.
The bid for no war is a message the Colliers iterate throughout the text. One Patriot, Colonel Read, a leader of men, quits the war because he disapproves of it. Another, the Anglican minister, Mr. Beach, hopes common sense will prevail—"Nobody wants rebellion except fools and hotheads," he claims (6). And of course, Life Meeker speaks directly against war. He addresses words and actions of sedition with rage, even ousting a customer in his tavern for talking about rebellion, and he tries to order his son Sam to strip himself of the Rebel uniform and stop such nonsense. He is an Englishman who holds to King-allegiance, obedience to the Fatherland.
Life Meeker knows war, and he will not have any part of it. When Sam professes that he is fighting for freedom and will willingly die for the cause, Life shouts: "Free? Free to do what, Sam? Free to mock your King? To shoot your neighbor? To make a mess of thousands of lives?" (7). The bottom line for Mr. Meeker is: Free, Sam, to bring your buddy home in a sack? Life tells Tim later that injustices do indeed exist in the world. This can't be helped, but injustices are not eliminated by fighting.
Sam, a young rebel, sixteen, charmed by the soldier's life, and motivated by principle, joins the Continental army and later reenlists because he feels a part of something big, something important. At least this is Tim's view. Sam identifies himself as an American, and he will fight until the finish, as will his friends, for they have made a pact to do so. His end is dreadful, the guns so close that his clothes are set afire, and a second shot is necessary to kill him. How true is Mrs. Meeker's frequent lament: war turns men into beasts.
Quite ironically, as are the vagaries of war, Life Meeker dies on a British prison ship, and his son is shot because a General wants to set an example to control his troops. Sam's life becomes sacrificial and his father's satirical. Life Meeker pronounces at his death that he is then going to "enjoy the freedom war … [had] brought … [him]" (165).
Why is brother Sam dead? Did he bring the wrath of God upon himself for not obeying his elders? Was he killed by his brothers to prompt a quicker end to the struggle? Was he a victim of idealism? Had "common decency between people" disappeared, as Mr. Platt feared and had "every man … [armed himself] against his neighbor?" Rebel and Tory in "open warfare?" (101). Had the beast in man been excused in the name of justice?
In My Brother Sam Is Dead, the Colliers readily engage readers in the dilemmas and hazards of Revolutionary life. We readers have much to "chew on," issues of survival, manhood, loyalties, dominion. And always the most difficult question: Can the cost of life be measured, weighed?
Collier, Christopher. "Johnny and Sam: Old and New Approaches to the American Revolution," The Horn Book Magazine, 52 (1976): 132-138.
Kathy G. Short (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Short, Kathy G. "My Brother Sam Is Dead: Embracing the Contradictions and Uncertainties of Life and War." In Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985-2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, pp. 305-10. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002.
[In the following essay, Short summarizes the various thematic issues that have made My Brother Sam Is Dead a controversial book in some quarters and seeks to promote its value as an enduring work of young adult historical fiction.]
My Brother Sam Is Dead consistently appears on recommended reading lists for upper elementary and middle school students. English and language arts educators promote the book because of its high literary quality, particularly in relation to strong character development and use of setting. Social studies educators recommend this historical fiction novel because it offers alternative perspectives on the American Revolution and raises controversial questions and issues for students to consider.
Another type of list on which My Brother Sam Is Dead has consistently appeared throughout the years is lists of the most frequently banned books in the United States. Clearly there is something beyond literary merit and historical perspectives that has caught the attention of the public.
So what is it about this historical fiction novel that captures both praise and condemnation? After describing the plot and themes of the book, I will overview the major criticisms that have led to censorship challenges and then discuss the literary and historical qualities that have led to awards and frequent use of the book in English and social studies classrooms.
My Brother Sam Is Dead was the first children's book written by James and Christopher Collier, two brothers who have since collaborated on other historical novels for children. In their collaborative writing process, Christopher is primarily responsible for the plot outline and the research needed to verify historical accuracy and authenticity. James crafts this research into a powerful piece of fiction. Written in 1974, the book received immediate acclaim by being named a Newbery Honor book, quite an accomplishment for a first novel.
The novel explores the complexity of the issues surrounding the American Revolution and war in general through the story of a Connecticut family torn apart by divided loyalties. The father is a Tory, a loyalist who wants to maintain his business and protect his family, while older brother Sam has decided to leave college and join the rebel forces. The story is told in first person through the eyes of Tim, the younger brother who must remain at home and deal with conflicting loyalties within his family and community. Tim idolizes Sam but, at the same time, loves and respects his father.
While the American Revolution is often portrayed in history textbooks as a battle between the Americans and the British, the Colliers based their novel on the fact that all people living in America at that time were British subjects. The war was thus between various groups of Americans whose loyalties were different and whose positions were much more complex than simply Tory or Patriot. The Colliers portray the war as a civil war which divided families and communities rather than "good guys versus bad guys."
For example, while Tim's father is a Tory, he chooses not to become involved in the war while other neighbors actively support the conflict or join armies for one side or the other. A continuum between the two opposing positions was filled with many individuals, including those whose loyalties were unclear, neutral, or shifted according to whichever side appeared to be winning. The complexity of why various Americans did and did not get involved in the war is reflected through the range of characters that Tim encounters.
The novel begins with Tim witnessing an argument between Sam and his father over Sam's participation in a rebel uprising. Sam has come home to steal his father's gun in order to have the needed credentials to enlist in the rebel forces, an action that leaves the family without protection.
The war comes closer to Tim when he and his father take a trip to sell cattle and get supplies for the family tavern. While he and his father are given safe passage by local protection units sympathetic to the loyalists, on the way home his father is taken captive and only through trickery is Tim able to safely return home. The rebel bands that Tim and his father encounter are criminals who use the excuse of war to rob and kill, and they increase Tim's ambiguity and confusion about who really are the "good guys" in this war.
Tim takes over his father's work in their tavern and is soon so tired he has no time to think about war. The ugly reality of war again invades Tim's life when he sees a neighbor decapitated by loyalist forces and another young boy taken away to prison camp during a local skirmish.
When Sam's company returns to the area to winter, Tim and his mother are able to see Sam more frequently, and Tim becomes troubled by his brother's motivations in joining the rebel forces. Tim realizes that his brother remains in the army, not because of duty, but because he likes the excitement of being part of something big. Ultimately, Tim's family pays a terrible price when Sam and his father both lose their lives in the war. The father dies because of the terrible conditions on a prison ship, and Sam is executed as an "example" to other troops when he is falsely accused of stealing his own family's cattle.
In the epilogue, Tim writes fifty years after the war about the events in his life since that time and reflects on the terrible price his family paid. While he notes that the United States has prospered as an independent nation, he also remembers his father's words, "In war, the dead pay the debts of the living." He ends with this statement, "I keep thinking that there might have been another way, besides war, to achieve the same end" (245).
The Colliers also include a section entitled "How much of this book is true?" where they note which details in the book are factually based on actual individuals and events and which are fictionalized. The historical details and sources provided by the Colliers indicate their commitment to the accurate portrayal of historical events, although telling the story of history always involves interpretation by the historian.
Clearly, My Brother Sam Is Dead is a novel that deals with difficult issues through its focus on the devastating effects of war on one particular family, a focus that immediately raises the concern of censors. In particular, censorship challenges have arisen for a number of reasons. One is the use of profanity by several soldiers. Another is the graphic descriptions of physical violence when a neighbor is decapitated and another is shot. When the mother can no longer cope with her problems after losing her husband and realizing that her older son is likely to be executed, she resorts to drinking for a time. Tim uses alcohol at one point to survive the cold when he is trapped alone in a bitter snowstorm. Finally, some critics have noted that the book, written during the height of the Vietnam controversy, takes a general stance against war and specifically questions the American Revolution.
Despite these censorship challenges, English, language arts, and social studies educators have continued to use and recommend this book. For English and language arts educators, the major appeal of the book is its strong literary quality which meets objectives within an English curriculum. This novel is an excellent one for studying character development because Tim, the young narrator, is a dynamic character who undergoes significant, but believable, change through the course of the novel. Sam remains a relatively static character who loses some of his enthusiasm for fighting but still remains dedicated to his army. At the same time, Tim's perspectives and priorities gradually shift in complexity as he lives through difficult life events and matures from a naive young boy to a mature young man. The authenticity of the characterization provided by the Colliers is one reason why profanity is used several times by soldiers involved in battle.
Related to the strong characterization is the authors' effective use of setting to influence character and plot. Tim's ambiguity about the war shifts as he moves from place to place; this is particularly apparent during the supply trip, which parallels his confusion over which side of the war he personally wants to support. Whereas the town where Tim's family lives is primarily Tory sympathizers, Sam encounters strong Patriot views when he is away at college, which leads him to make his life-changing decision to join the rebel forces. Each setting reflects different perspectives on the conflict that shift the plot and influence the characters' actions and views.
The novel also encourages explorations of many different possible themes as well as provides an ending that invites further dialogue about the necessity of war. The authors invite response instead of neatly tying up loose ends. As readers discuss this novel, themes of the realities of war as they affect individuals and communities will likely be raised as well as themes regarding family relationships and responsibilities. Readers are immediately struck by the harsh realities of war through the deaths of the father and brother, and these realities are contrasted thematically with Sam's romantic view of war as heroism and the fight for freedom. The mother's anguish at the loss of her husband and son and Tim's reflections on whether the cause of freedom might have been gained in another manner can support readers in exploring the theme of war in a complex manner. History textbooks accept the necessity of war without question, and this novel asks readers to stop and think about whether war is really always the only way to accomplish our goals as a country. Readers are encouraged to explore this theme from a range of perspectives, including the causes of a war, individual reasons for fighting in a war, and the costs of war at different levels within a country, community, and family.
The book focuses less on details about where and when certain battles were fought and more on the values of family love, responsibility, respect, honest work, and the value of human life. The tensions between father and son, the mother's attempts to hold the family together despite their differences, the necessity of assuming responsibilities for absent family members, and the death of a parent are issues that today's students can relate to in powerful ways. The difficulty of family relationships is especially expressive in the portrayal of how Tim is torn between obeying his father and respecting his brother, particularly given his love for both.
Finally, the novel can be related to a study of historical fiction as a genre that goes beyond facts in order to personalize history and that uses the past to help explain the present. This novel is also an excellent way to connect the study of literature and history and to distinguish between fiction and fact by using the authors' note at the end of the book.
Within a social studies class, the use of novels such as this one serves to bring history alive as a story of the people who lived during a particular time period and made decisions that affect our lives and country today, not just a recounting of dates, people, and battles. Historical fiction brings history to life for today's students. Historical fiction also provides multiple perspectives on historical events that have too frequently been presented unidimensionally in textbooks. History textbooks have typically presented the American Revolution through a singular perspective on the necessity of the war to achieve freedom from England. By using this novel along with other novels set during this time period, teachers can encourage students to explore multiple interpretations of this specific war and of broader issues such as the dilemma of the uncommitted citizen and the necessity of war.
Because the Colliers portray the war as a civil war, the issue of who was patriotic and loyal to the country is challenged, and the oversimplification of these issues in textbooks is raised for debate. Also, because the main character in the book, Tim, is undecided about the war and must weigh various situations and events, the reader is effectively drawn into thinking through these issues alongside Tim. Sam's belief in the cause of freedom, which leads to his death, provides a powerful contrast to Tim's experience of freedom through the rest of his life but his questioning of the means to accomplishing that freedom. The Colliers invite debate—they have not decided the issue for readers—and they invite thoughtful discussion.
While some critics object that this novel encourages debate about war, controversy is the foundation of a social studies education. The valuing of differences and the challenging of ideas remain at the heart of a democracy in a diverse, free society. Teaching about ideas that are controversial has been one of the keystones to education, and novels such as this one open the possibility for dialogue.
While the Colliers do carefully present a range of perspectives on war through their characters, they also deliberately selected events that build toward a strong antiwar message. All authors and historians have a perspective, and so their work should not be criticized for making that perspective explicit for readers. Instead, teachers can use this book to talk about all history as interpretation and the importance of researching the perspective of novelists and historians and the thought collective of the time period in which they write, not just the time period they write about.
By having students read this book alongside other books about this time period as well as the history textbook, teachers can highlight history as interpretation. These comparisons could include comparing "facts" as presented across the books, reading aloud sections of the various texts that relate to the same events, creating alternative endings for any of the novels based on the interpretations offered by other texts, or rewriting the history textbook by using perspectives from historical fiction.
One possible comparison is between Johnny Tremain (Forbes, 1943) and My Brother Sam Is Dead, both strong literary novels dealing with the American Revolution but with contrasting attitudes toward war. Johnny Tremain was written in 1943, when the United States was immersed in a war that was supported with great patriotic fervor by the majority of Americans. The belief that "our side is right" and that war is justified prevailed, and so it is no surprise that Esther Forbes wrote a novel that glorified the American Revolution as necessary and worth the sacrifice of life. In contrast, the Colliers wrote their novel during the Vietnam War era, a time period when American society was questioning the necessity of war for solving political and social problems and focusing on the value of human life. Their decision to portray the American Revolution as a civil war and to focus on its effects through one family's devastating experiences grew out of society's views during the time period in which they wrote. This comment is not meant to question the historical accuracy of this novel. The Colliers did not twist the facts, as they knew them, but made every attempt to verify the events and people included in the novel. However, as writers and historians, they also brought their own interpretations to how they told the story with these facts.
The strength of this novel is not in its factual detail but in its potential for raising questions about what is read in history books and about the problems we all face in our daily lives. The ending reminds us that there are not clear-cut answers to most of life's problems and that we need to face and embrace the contradictions and uncertainties. My Brother Sam Is Dead challenges us to think about this complexity and invites us to engage in dialogue with others about these issues. Where the censors see profanity, violence, alcoholism, and a lack of patriotism instead lies an invitation for thoughtfulness about the ways in which we live our lives and the realization that our decisions will affect both our lives and the lives of future generations.
Collier, James, and Christopher Collier. My Brother Sam Is Dead. New York: Four Winds Press, 1974.
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.
THE WINTER HERO (1978)
John T. Gillespie and Corinne J. Naden (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: Gillespie, John T., and Corinne J. Naden. "The Winter Hero." In Juniorplots 3: A Book Talk Guide for Use with Readers 12-16, pp. 210-14. New York, N.Y.: R. R. Bowker Company, 1987.
[In the following essay, Gillespie and Naden offer a critical assessment of The Winter Hero, the last chapter in the Collier brothers' trilogy of young adult novels about the American Revolution.]
These authors first gained recognition for their touching novel about tragic events during the American Revolution, My Brother Sam Is Dead (Four Winds, 1974). Since then they have produced an impressive number of novels about American history. In The Bloody Country (Four Winds, 1985), for example, a family tries to eke out a living in spite of floods, a massacre, and legal battles in the area that was later to be Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Most of their novels contain "afterwords," outlining the factual bases for their stories. These novels are suitable for junior high school readers.
During 1786-1787, Daniel Shays, who had fought in the American Revolution, led an armed revolt in western Massachusetts when economically depressed farmers attacked the Springfield arsenal and tried to prevent the courts from sitting. The rebellion was broken up by state troops; Shays escaped and was pardoned in 1788.
With the true story of Shays' Rebellion as background, [in The Winter Hero, ] the authors recount the fictional tale of fourteen-year-old Justin Conkey, too young to fight in the Revolution and anxious to prove himself in what looks like an upcoming battle between Massachusetts farmers and the government.
Justin, who makes his home on the farm of his sister, Molly, and her hot-tempered, headstrong husband, Peter McColloch, hears much talk in the small community of Pelham, Massachusetts, about how the General Court has unfairly levied tax after tax on the struggling farmers to help pay the rising costs of bringing a new country into existence. Then, one day, a collector comes to take away Peter's oxen because he can't pay back his loan in time to the wealthy Major Mattoon. Peter protests that without his oxen, he cannot work the farm to repay the money. In despair, Peter talks the matter over with Daniel Shays, who had fought as a captain in the Revolution and is considered a leader by the village people. Shays suggests that young Justin be sent into the Mattoon household to work off the debt for the oxen, instead of surrendering them, and in that way might be in a position to do a little spy work for the farmers' cause.
Justin is given a job in the Mattoon home, where, with a little ingenuity on his part, he is able to get a look at some papers listing those who are suspected of helping to foment trouble against the government; Shays' name and Peter' are on the list.
More and more Massachusetts farmers begin to back Shays, who is calling for changes in the laws, for fair tax levies, and an end to debtors' prison. And when Shays bands together his own militia to march to Springfield to prevent the courts from sitting, Justin demands to join them. At last, here is a war in which he has a chance to become a hero!
Reluctantly, Molly allows her young brother to march off along with Peter to join the rebellion. With only his father's old sword as a weapon, Justin is proud to be part of such a glorious adventure. He is certain that when the time comes, he will prove himself a stalwart fighting man.
Instead, after marching through bitter cold and heavy snow, the first time Shays' men are bombarded with fire from the state militia, most of them, Justin included, turn and run. For Justin, his chance to be a hero has turned into cowardice.
Even though Shays' forces are routed, the rebellion continues. In February 1787, Justin and Peter are among the rebels attacked by government troops at the town of Sheffield. Desperate to prove his bravery, Justin is nonetheless terrified when he sees the forest of bayonets coming toward him, and once again he attempts to flee—until he sees Peter, lying on his back with a government soldier about to bayonet him. Without thinking, Justin swings his musket like a club at the man's head. The soldier is stunned, and both Peter and Justin escape.
Shays' Rebellion has been stopped. When Justin finally returns to the farm, he learns from Molly that Peter, who had returned home earlier, has been put in jail along with other members of the uprising. Seventeen are declared guilty of treason—Peter among them. When sentences are passed, it is declared that six of the seventeen will be hanged, including Peter.
But Molly devises a plan to free Peter. With the help of others, she draws up a petition to the State Council begging clemency for the condemned men. The petition buys a few days' time. The men are to be hanged on June twenty-first. This time Molly writes a letter for Peter to sign—which he does with reluctance—humbling himself and begging for mercy.
On June nineteenth, the answer comes back from Boston. The men will be hanged on schedule.
Justin and Molly travel to the town of Northampton, where Peter is to be hanged. With heavy hearts, they watch as Peter climbs the steps of the gallows, the townspeople gathered as though witnessing a splendid drama. The noose is slipped over Peter's head, and Justin can almost feel the rope himself….
But as Peter stares ahead and Justin awaits the awful moment of his brother-in-law's death, the drums stop and the sheriff steps to the corner of the gallows platform. He pulls a paper from his coat pocket and reads: By the order of the Governor … the man Peter McColloch is to be reprieved….
Young Justin Conkey, hero of Shays' Rebellion, unashamedly lets the tears stream down his face.
Here is history made alive and dramatic as the authors bring to life a critical period in the history of the young United States. For Shays' Rebellion, although a failure in that it did not accomplish what it set out to do, was successful in that it had great consequences on the future of the nation. Whereas many citizens believed it important for the states to retain most of the power and for the federal government to be relatively weak, Shays' Rebellion and the circumstances surrounding it showed them that a strong federal government was necessary in order to prevent grievances such as the farmers' protest against over-taxation and debtors' prison from flaring up continually and hindering the country's growth.
THE CORN RAID: A STORY OF THE JAMESTOWN SETTLEMENT (2000)
Shawn Brommer (review date April 2000)
SOURCE: Brommer, Shawn. Review of The Corn Raid: A Story of the Jamestown Settlement, by James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 46, no. 4 (April 2000): 130.
Gr. 5 Up—Collier chronicles the life of a 12-year-old indentured servant, Richard, who lives in fear of his master, a tobacco farmer who beats him [in The Corn Raid: A Story of the Jamestown Settlement ]. He befriends a Weyanock boy who is also indentured to Mr. Laydon. When Richard discovers that the English have planned a corn raid on the Weyanock, he tells Weetoppin, who then slips off to warn his people. His conscience troubled, knowing that many people will be killed, Richard tells Mr. Laydon that the Indians know of the raid and when Mr. Laydon begins to beat him, the boy stands up to him. Weetoppin runs away and Richard begins planning for the day when he will be free. Character development is minimal, and history takes precedence over story.
THE WORST OF TIMES: A STORY OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION (2000)
Carol A. Edwards (review date March 2000)
SOURCE: Edwards, Carol A. Review of The Worst of Times: A Story of the Great Depression, by James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 46, no. 3 (March 2000): 234.
Gr. 5-8—The obviously educational intent overtakes the story in both of these books. In the first title [The Worst of Times: A Story of the Great Depression ], Petey's formerly comfortable family struggles through the Great Depression in the Chicago area while his cousin, the son of a wealthy factory owner, joins the union movement. The plot seems designed to set up a situation in which the struggle of the workers for rights clashes with free-enterprise beliefs that the boss makes the decisions. Collier tugs at readers' heartstrings with an ominous and abrupt ending, but amid a wealth of detail and political discussion, the humanity of the characters is lost, and with it the capacity of readers to care. In Sweet America, Steven Kroll shows 14-year-old Tonio's gradual transformation into Tony, a hardworking immigrant striving to survive and succeed in New York City at the end of the 19th century. Predictable difficulties with gangs, overcrowded tenements, layoffs, and the generation gap almost, but not quite, overcome lively Tonio's charm. The talents of both of these writers are wasted in these lackluster offerings.
Susan Shaver (review date September-October 2001)
SOURCE: Shaver, Susan. Review of Chipper, by James Lincoln Collier. Book Report 20, no. 2 (September-October 2001): 60.
In the late 1800s, Chipper, a 12-year-old boy, has been living on the streets of New York City for two years [in Chipper ]. Pinch's gang, the Midnight Rats, is Chipper's street family. They share what food they can steal and huddle together at night to sleep and stay warm. A plan for Chipper to steal dynamite for a future bank robbery goes awry, and, just as a night watchman is about to nab Chipper, Patch, a stranger, rescues him. Patch takes a strong interest in Chipper—he feeds him, bathes him, saves him from some of Pinch's foolish plans, and introduces him to the wealthy Miss Sibbley. She sees a resemblance in Chipper to her dead brother, Charles, which convinces her that Charles is Chipper's father. A missing scarab ring is believed to be the key to Chipper's connection to Charles Sibbley; however, a gold sovereign Chipper has hidden and cherished since his mother's death actually holds the answer. At times this complex story reads a bit sluggishly with details unfolding slowly, and yet the pieces of the puzzle gradually come together in an eventful conclusion. To fully understand the time, place, setting, character relationships, and significance of Chipper's conflict within himself and his loyalty to the gang, readers must pay close attention to clues. Recommended.
INDIANS, COWBOYS, AND FARMERS AND THE BATTLE FOR THE GREAT PLAINS, 1865 TO 1910 (2001)
Patricia Ann Owens (review date July 2001)
SOURCE: Owens, Patricia Ann. Review of Indians, Cowboys, and Farmers and the Battle for the Great Plains, 1865 to 1910, by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 47, no. 7 (July 2001): 120.
Gr. 6-10—This is American history at its most basic. Believing that students get "lost in a swamp of factual information," the Colliers survey the essential concepts of settling the Great Plains, without a great deal of detail [in Indians, Cowboys, and Farmers and the Battle for the Great Plains, 1865 to 1910 ]. For example, in describing the sequence of events that led to the Grattan Massacre, there is no mention of date, location, or names of the people involved. Without prior knowledge, readers would not know it was the Grattan Massacre. Topics addressed include Native American history prior to contact with whites and conflicts with settlers and the military, ranching and cowboys, railroads, and reform movements that sought to help farmers and regulate big business. While the focus of this book is on political and institutional history, it does mention the contributions of women and minorities. The illustrative material—photographs, campaign posters, political cartoons, advertisements, graphs, maps, and reproductions of paintings by famous Western artists George Catlin, Charles Russell, and Frederic Remington—is outstanding. References to other books in the series that further explain a topic are scattered throughout the text.
WILD BOY (2002)
Todd Morning (review date 1 November 2002)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Wild Boy, by James Lincoln Collier. Booklist 99, no. 5 (1 November 2002): 490.
Gr. 5-8—After an argument in which he takes a swing at his father with an axe handle and knocks him out, 12-year-old Jesse leaves his prairie town and heads to the hills [in Wild Boy ]. He tries to live as a mountain man but is untutored in wilderness survival. Fortunately, an experienced man teaches Jesse how to live in the woods and also functions as a sort of nineteenth-century anger-management therapist. Gradually, Jesse recovers lost memories and comes to realize why his mother abandoned the family several years earlier. There's also plenty of action in a bear hunt and in confrontations with a dangerous and mentally unstable man. Eventually, Jesse decides to give up mountain life, and he returns home a more mature and self-aware person. Unlike most historical novels, this lacks any sense of time and place, and some readers may have a hard time plowing through Jesse's twangy, first-person narration. Still, the gradually unfolded truth of Jesse's past and the story's moments of excitement can keep the pages turning.
THE SITTING BULL YOU NEVER KNEW (2003)
S. K. Joiner (review date January 2004)
SOURCE: Joiner, S. K. Review of The Sitting Bull You Never Knew, by James Lincoln Collier, illustrated by Greg Copeland. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 143.
Gr. 4-6—In addition to original drawings, this book [The Sitting Bull You Never Knew ] also utilizes reproductions of historical photographs and paintings. Captions generally repeat information from the text. No documentation is provided for the quotes; presumably they come from one of the three sources listed in the bibliography. Throughout the text, the author ascribes feelings and thoughts to Sitting Bull that are not documented. References to "Indian lore" and an "Indian way of life" appear with no mention of the disparate beliefs among nations. The title of the last chapter, "The Last of the Sioux," gives the impression that the Sioux no longer exist. Stick with Joseph Bruchac's A Boy Called Slow (Philomel, 1995).
Kay Bowes (review date March 2004)
SOURCE: Bowes, Kay. Review of The Sitting Bull You Never Knew, by James Lincoln Collier, illustrated by Greg Copeland. Library Media Connection 22, no. 6 (March 2004): 75.
K-5, 6-8—In this title, [The Sitting Bull You Never Knew, ] the facts and information about what life was like for the Native Americans at that time in history is extremely well described. The author's writing draws readers in. The many historical photographs and paintings add color and help explain events. None of the quotations used are cited in the "Author's Note on Sources," making me uncomfortable not knowing the source of these quotes. Otherwise, this would be an outstanding biography for young readers.
THE EMPTY MIRROR (2004)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 August 2004)
SOURCE: Review of The Empty Mirror, by James Lincoln Collier. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 16 (15 August 2004): 803.
Prolific author Collier presents an odd and oddly compelling tale of a young boy haunted by a vengeful spirit and his own tragic past [in The Empty Mirror ]. Set in a New England coastal village, the story centers on 13-year-old Nick, orphaned as a baby in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Nick is known for getting into trouble now and then, making it hard for him to defend himself when a mysterious double appears, seeming to be bent on mining his already tarnished reputation and ultimately claiming his life. Occasionally slow-moving but always atmospheric, the first-person narration follows Nick from the first moment he notices that his reflection has disappeared to his final clever confrontation with the diabolical double. Secondary characters are clearly, if sketchily, drawn and, like the archetypal small-town setting, serve to ground the story without dragging it down into unnecessary detail. While Collier's quirky tale requires more from readers than popular mass-market horror stories, his matter-of-fact tone makes even the ghostly elements seem bone-chillingly plausible. Spooky and satisfying. (Fiction. 10-14)
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date October 2004)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. Review of The Empty Mirror, by James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 50, no. 10 (October 2004): 159-60.
Gr. 5-8—Nick Hodges, a 13-year-old orphan with the reputation of being a troublemaker, lives with his Uncle Jack in a small coastal New England village in 1931 [in The Empty Mirror ]. His parents both died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, which the villagers are reluctant to talk about. The story opens with Nick's waking from a disturbing dream in which he feels he has lost something. Soon he is accused of not speaking to a neighbor at the pond, when he was miles from there at that time. Investigating at the pond with his friend, Gypsy Dauber, Nick is stunned to see that he has no reflection. He continues to be seen at destructive incidents that increase in their severity: breaking windows of the church; setting fire to the school; and cutting boats loose, one of which has a passed-out drunk aboard. The townspeople are ready to hang Nick for murder or send him to a mental institution when he continues to insist that he is innocent. A gravestone for Jared Solters, a boy of Nick's age who died in the epidemic, provides the clue that causes the teen to investigate the epidemic and learn why Jared wants to inhabit his body and live out the remainder of his life. Some lessons on the importance of not forgetting the past are included in this fast-paced novel that will hook readers with a spooky ghost story while giving them interesting historical information.
Linda Perkins (review date 15 October 2004)
SOURCE: Perkins, Linda. Review of The Empty Mirror, by James Lincoln Collier. Booklist 101, no. 4 (15 October 2004): 403.
Gr. 5-8—Orphaned by the 1918 influenza epidemic, 13-year-old Nick has been raised by his uncle Jack, a New England bachelor shopkeeper [in The Empty Mirror ]. Nick's reputation as a trouble-some kid doesn't help him when he's wrongly accused of disrespect, and his puzzlement deepens when he discovers that he can no longer see his reflection in a mirror. More unfair accusations make it clear that someone who looks exactly like Nick is stirring up trouble. As Nick's doppelgänger escalates his activities to criminal acts, the townspeople demand justice, and Nick finds his life in danger. Most of the townspeople and the ne'er-do-well Dauber family fit familiar stereotypes, but the awkward yet caring relationship between Nick and Uncle Jack give the supernatural story a credible base. The town frenzy is also frighteningly believable, and Nick's desperation becomes palpable. This eerie suspense tale will appeal to kids who enjoy plot-driven stories that give them a good scare.
ME AND BILLY (2004)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 2004)
SOURCE: Review of Me and Billy, by James Lincoln Collier. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 18 (15 September 2004): 912.
Possum (the only name the 12-year-old orphan has) tells his own life story and picaresque adventures with fellow orphan and best friend, Billy [in Me and Billy ]. The boys have lived in Deacon Smith's Home for Waifs since their births. Billy, the protagonist, is at once charming and amoral and dreams of escaping to find endless gold. When they do flee, they encounter a charlatan who feeds them and has them work selling his medical nostrums. After the "Professor," they meet and work with others, some upstanding and some unsavory. Billy steals a watch from someone who's been good to them, making Possum realize that Billy will never change. So he and Billy part. Set on the western frontier of the US in the time of horse-and-buggies, the story has a light tone and is often humorous, thanks to exaggeration, but it packs a wallop of exciting adventures and plot twists. Readers will recognize the extent, as Possum does, of Billy's character flaws, but they'll still like him. A good read-aloud selection that may lead to discussion about likable rogues. (Fiction. 4-7)
Douglas P. Davey (review date January 2005)
SOURCE: Davey, Douglas P. Review of Me and Billy, by James Lincoln Collier. School Library Journal 51, no. 1 (January 2005): 126.
Gr. 5-9—A small gem from an award-winning author. Set in the Old West, the story [in Me and Billy ] follows Billy Foster and the otherwise-unnamed Possum, orphans at the Deacon Smith Home for Waifs. Billy is clever and someone for whom illicit behavior isn't a choice but a compulsion. Possum is the narrator and it is through his newly opened eyes that readers see the world. Following a dubious tip from the orphanage's cook, the boys manufacture a daring escape. Their goal: a lake of gold hidden high in the mountains. Along the way they hook up with the Professor, a traveling huckster whose situational ethics are an inspiration to Billy. Possum is less convinced, and, after a run-in with one of the Professor's victims, the two boys head out on their own. A meeting with the troubled but loving Singletary family opens Possum's eyes to the joys of plain living, but the lure of riches leads the duo on. Following a grueling hike through the mountains, the boys find the lake but have their dreams of gold dashed. Despite some slight stalls in the narrative, the book's momentum is sustained by the author's wonderful use of vernacular and the friendship/tension between the boys. In the final act, Possum discovers Pa Singletary's watch hidden in Billy's pocket, leading to a surprising fight and reconciliation that hints poignantly at both the strength of their friendship and their inevitable parting of ways.
Alpern, Joyce. "Not a Bad Tory." Washington Post Book World (12 January 1975): 4.
Argues that My Brother Sam Is Dead is, "at times very unsubtly, an antiwar novel."
Scales, Pat R. "My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier." In Teaching Banned Books: 12 Guides for Young Readers, pp. 111-13. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association, 2001.
Offers a summary and classroom discussion questions for My Brother Sam Is Dead.
Sutherland, Zena. Review of The Winter Hero, by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 32, no. 6 (February 1979): 97.
Compares The Winter Hero to the Colliers' other works of historical fiction, noting that the authors have a reputation for presenting "fiction skillfully based on fact."
Additional coverage of the Colliers' lives and careers are contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 13; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 2; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12R, 33-36R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 4, 13, 33, 60, 102; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 30; DISCovering Authors Modules: Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, Vol. 1; Something about the Author, Vols. 8, 16, 70, 166; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 21; and Writers for Young Adults.