Powder Monkey by Donna McDine, illustrated by K.C. Snider, is strong historical fiction. It tells a story of a harsh period in British naval history that is not for the faint of heart. Two brothers are taken by the Royal Navy Press Gang and impressed into service aboard a warship. These boys, aged twelve and fourteen, are destined to run powder to the cannons during battles at sea.
Tommy, the younger brother, is witness to the brutality of the press gang against his parents, who try to save their boys. He sees other boys, his neighbors, also taken into service. These farm boys have to learn to survive as servants of the crown, at the beck and call of the sailors they serve. These “powder monkeys” experience violence, and must perform the vilest duties aboard ship.
K.C. Snider’s artwork captures the agony and horror suffered by those boys at that time in history. The haunting images she creates take us back to that awful period. We see the smoke, the filth, and the danger in these boys’ lives. It’s a wonder any of them lived through such an awful experience.
Tommy’s will to survive overcomes his terrible circumstances, his pain, and his losses. He learns what he needs to do and does it. Although he never sees his parents again, he does become an able bodied seaman, and that’s as close to a happy ending as we get in this story.
There is a lot to discuss here with students, especially those who might want to complain about their situation now. All they need to do is look at what happened to those boys back then. History lessons can be hard to hear – and harder to learn -- but these stories must be told.
Published by www.guardianangelpublishing.com/
This review is part of the World of Ink Virtual Blog Tour.