Hattie’s War by Hilda and Emily Demuth (Crispin Books, 2014).

(Reviewed by Stephanie Lowden)

Eleven-year-old Hattie is angry. She loves to play baseball, but is told it’s a “gentlemen’s game” (as it was considered in the 1860s when this story takes place). When Hattie’s mother commandeers the family’s backyard baseball field to plant a vegetable garden, Hattie steams.

She likewise resents the fact that her younger brother gets to help out in her father’s shoe shop, but she is not allowed to assist because it’s not a “lady’s sort of job.”

On top of all that, her classmate, Lizzie, is a perfect lady who taunts Hattie for her boyish ways.

It seems Hattie can’t do anything right. But when her mother becomes involved in developing a home for injured soldiers returning from the Civil War, Hattie finds a way to help.

Set in 1864–1865, Hattie’s War is based on the true story of the creation of the Soldier’s Home Society in Milwaukee. A group of exceptional women had an idea that a public home needed to be built to help the many injured soldiers returning from the Civil War. These women formed a society and worked doggedly to raise funds to take care of the men, who suffered from injuries both mental and physical. In 1865, the women organized a Soldier’s Home Fair, which raised over $100,000 to purchase land to build a permanent home west of Milwaukee. That property continues to serve soldiers and veterans today as the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

Hattie is also based on a real girl: Hattie Bigelow, whose mother was a member of the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society. For all of the real history this story encompasses, however, it is the fictional story the Demuths weave of Hattie, a high-spirited tomboy, who struggles with her role as a proper lady, that brings history to life. Young readers will identify with Hattie’s desire to be herself, even when being herself goes against the wishes of her parents and invites the scorn of her peers.

The Demuth sisters have created a tribute to the women and children who helped establish the first soldier’s home in Milwaukee, and they’ve done it by weaving a story about a young girl who readers will identify with and cheer for.

Hattie’s War, by Hilda & Emily Demuth
Crispin Books • November 2014
Softcover • 170 pages
Juvenile Fiction / Chapter Book / Ages 8–12
$13.95 • ISBN 978-1-883953-76-8
Civil War Era • Veteran’s Issues
19th-Century Origins of Baseball

Reviewer Stephanie Lowden is author of several middle-grade historical novels, including Time of the Eagle and Jingo Fever, both set in the Upper Midwest (northern Minnesota and Wisconsin). A member of SCBWI, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin.