Sybil’s father, Henry Ludington, is a Loyalist captain in name only and spends his free time helping Patriots spy on the British. When pressures mount, he enlists Sybil and her sister, Rebecca, to help decipher code written with invisible ink on letters bearing crucial information about the British army, its troops, and their planned maneuvers. This opportunity is a dream come true for Sybil, who idolizes Paul Revere and hopes for her own chance to prove her mettle–a chance that emerges when she gets asked to ride all night in a terrifying crusade to save her family and her country. “I didn’t realize it was weird for me to want to be brave or daring or courageous like a man was,” she memorably declares.
Walsh’s easy, flowing prose breathes life into colonial America. Readers will find themselves in the thick of the Revolutionary War as well as eighteenth-century living: Walsh uses period appropriate language (“Mama shook her head bigly”) and detail, such as a family strategy game of “Nine Man’s Morrice in the parlor,” to capture the feeling of the past, and her handling of the long ride is crisp and suspenseful. History-minded young readers will be roused by this stouthearted protagonist’s unflinching dedication.
Takeaway: Middle-grade historical fiction fans will be swept up in the bravery of one young woman’s fight to save her country against a British attack.
Great for fans of: Celeste Lim’s The Crystal Ribbon, Pam Munoz Ryan’s Riding Freedom, Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Middle grade fiction readers will find By the Light of the Fireflies a fine historical novel based on the life of Colonial girl Sybil Ludington, following Sybil and her family's struggle during the Revolutionary War.
The story opens with the Loyalists to the British Crown coming for her father. They are accusing him of being a traitor to England.
Sybil believes in her father, and in the magic light of fireflies which (legend has it) appear when you need them most. But can they help her family when war swirls around them and they all are endangered?
As Sybil steps into a role she'd never envisioned, young readers receive an action-packed story that captures the environment and atmosphere of the times: "I used my musket to point into the dark forest, my own gaze following the long barrel. I heard Rebecca’s gasp. My gun felt heavy in my hands. I should fire it. It was what Papa told us to do. Fire it and he’d come running. He’d handle the situation, in this case: his capturers. Or worse: his assassins. I quivered. I wouldn’t fire my gun. That felt like hand-delivering a worm to a bird’s nest to be gobbled."
Forced to be assertive and proactive beyond her years and experience, Sybil becomes an inadvertent heroine as she struggles to protect everything she loves from the Loyalists and the evolving battle that engulfs her home.
Revolutionary War history and motivations on all sides come to life in the course of a survey that does an outstanding job of capturing the political and social sentiments of the times.
Jenni L. Walsh is especially adept at capturing the Sybil's first-person observations and emotions: "I pushed us north, toward the hamlet of Stormville. That’d be the point where I turned us south again. I yearned for Stormville. I wanted nothing more than to see that strip of homes. My hands were red. They burned from the cold, from where I gripped the reins and my stick. My jawline hurt, where my teeth had clenched for so long. My legs and back and torso ached from keeping beat with Star. My stomach felt hollow and grumbled for food. My eyeballs even felt as if they’d been rattled to the point of pain."
These drive a story line that personalizes the history in a manner that makes it understandable, realistic, and quite accessible.
Middle grade readers who normally eschew fact-laden historical fiction will find the emotional driving force particularly strong in By the Light of the Fireflies. This approach strengthens the compelling story of a young girl's trials, which forces her into the unexpected role of becoming a female war hero in times where girls and women normally are staid.
A concluding note from the author reinforces the real historical events that receive such evocative, personalized attention in the plot.
—MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW