Mar 5, 2022


As I type this, Ukranians of every age, interest, gender, and background are finding "The Front" of an  uninvited, unwanted, and unjust invasion by Russia at their front doors. I wish them well and hope that their individual stories of bravery will make their way to a wider public, on the page or film or screen, after they have sustained a free and independent country against this onslaught. I listened to a report today by an emergency physician who is giving one-hour intensive lessons to everyday citizens to provide instruction and equipment meant to save lives- tourniquets, sutures, and other procedures that should require medical training to learn. Wash, rinse, repeat, hour after hour. I struggle to decide who is the greater hero, the doctor, exhausting himself and knowing the likely futility of his efforts and theirs, or the individuals who are willing to step up, to do SOMETHING to try to save lives and make a difference. None were giving in to feeling overwhelmed, they were simply moving forward.

Calkins Creek, 2022
Astra Publishing House


That's very much the frame of mind of Clara Barton and her crew of volunteer men. TO THE FRONT! Clara Barton Braves the Battle of Antietam is written by history-lover and storyteller Claudia Friddell, with evocative and informative illustrations by Christopher Cyr. This is a revelation of the early acts that distinguished Clara Barton as a brave, dedicated, and knowledgeable woman whose efforts were essential in saving lives and reducing suffering among the wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Friddell sets the stage for these harrowing scenes by blending actual text from Barton’s journals in blue font, paired with the author’s own free verse text in three-line stanzas and full paragraphs. This clear-eyed but dramatic account relates events through intimate perspectives of Clara’s wagon, Clara’s men, Clara’s hands, Clara and the doctors, her discoveries, her comforting, her endurance, her impact. 

Clara’s own words and the author’s text weave seamlessly but distinctly. Together they forge an effective trail that leads readers into the battlefields, into her makeshift and groundbreaking support efforts, and into connections and empathy with Clara, the doctors, the men who volunteered to serve as her team, and the victims of war. Back matter includes short perspectives on Clara, the consequences of her efforts, her personal missions before and after the war years, and her connections with other leaders of the time.


The bibliography and notes included offer a wealth of reliable resources to answer curious questions or launch further research. The illustrations are also a rich source of historic information, tone, social patterns, and gender expectations. The shifting perspectives of panoramic scenes and close portrayal of Barton’s reactions and worries feel theatrical and compelling, raising the suggestion that a nonfiction story told this well would make a valuable film or video. 


The name “Clara Barton” is one of the better known in American history, yet the extent of what most would know about her could fit on a JEOPARDY “answer” cue. A deep dive, as this is, dense with well-selected and appropriately placed primary source quotations, is exactly what it takes to waken all of us, at any age, to the full truths of Clara Barton’s life, and of our national history. 

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