Teaching History with Children’s Literature: The Silent Witness

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The Silent Witness written by Robin Friedman and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola tells the story of the Civil War as told by a young Lucretia “Lula” McLean.

The story begins by introducing Lula, her family members, and her rag doll enjoying life on their plantation located in Manassas, Virginia. “When Lula was four years old, her life changed forever” because confederate soldiers used their home as its headquarters. The story continues by discussing the issues fueling the Civil War, the daily problems the McLean family encountered in Manassas, and their move from Manassas to Appomattox. Robin Friedman also includes mention of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the military manuvers and decisions made by famous Civil War generals. The story ends with Lula leaving her rag doll in the living room as General Lee surrendered to General Grand. The “soldiers dubbed Lula’s doll ‘the silent witness’” thus giving the book its name.

Friedman concludes the book with an author’s note explaining how the story of the McLean family and the rag doll is true, the current location of the rag doll, and the implications and results of the Civil War. Robin Friedman does a phenomenal job of simplifying the complexities of the Civil War in this piece of historical fiction.

Curriculum Connections 

¬†The Silent Witness can be used in classrooms ranging from third to fifth grade to teach a simplified time line of the main events which took place during the Civil War. It especially focuses on Virginia’s role in the war including its major battles and the roles played by whites (VA SOL VS.7b&c) The book also describes how the issue of slavery increased the tension of the war, the roles of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant, and the effects of the war on both Union and Confederate soldiers (VA SOL US1.9b,d,f).

Additional Resources

  • This website provides a list of other book resources teachers can use to discuss aspects of the civil war.
  • Teachers can use this website to find supplemental information on Wilmer McLean and his role in the Civil War.
  • Teachers can use this lesson plan which has students role play in order to understand the different perspectives of people involved in the Civil War.
  • Students can use the time line found on this website to help them sequence and remember the major events of the Civil War.

Book: The Silent Witness
Author: Robin Friedman
Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: May 30, 2005
Pages: 32 pages
Grade Range: 3-5
ISBN: 978-0618442300