Right on schedule to commemorate the War of 1812’s bicentennial, A Call to Battle (the sixth book in Scholastic’s I Am Canada series) tells the tale of 13-year-old Alexander (Sandy) MacKay, who wants to fight alongside his father and older brother in the war against the Americans, but is left behind to care for the farm and the rest of his family. Sandy’s father believes his son is too young to go to battle and is just seeking adventure. Sandy attempts to prove otherwise, but when his father continues to refuse, the boy runs away from home to join the militia. Soon, he comes face to face with the realities of war, from the brutalities of the front to gruesome battlefield surgeries.
Author Gillian Chan (whose previous books include an instalment of Scholastic’s Dear Canada series) creates a strong sense of place in her rendition of early 19th-century Canada. This is largely a result of the detail and pacing of Sandy’s first-person narration. Make no mistake, this novel has its share of action and adventure, but Chan takes her time getting there, allowing the reader to genuinely understand Sandy, his community, and his family before the drama ramps up when he joins the militia.
This being a book about war, the violence is at times graphic. The language is also representative of the period and may take readers a few chapters to become accustomed to. Still, Chan uses these elements to give an authentic perspective on the War of 1812, reminding readers that the important part isn’t the battle, but how people continue to cope after it’s over. Fans of historical fiction, as well as action-loving boys, will find much to like in this book.