I read Across Five Aprils along with my own son and the 8th graders I teach as part of a unit on the Civil War. Ms. Hunt does a wonderful job of drawing her characters, particularly Jethro Creighton. Jethro and his family, farming in southern Illinois, find that even though they are not in the midst of the battlefields, their lives are nonetheless swept up in the events of this tragic period in our history. Jethro's growth and understanding of the sweep of history as well as of himself are well-detailed. Well they might be, as Ms. Hunt crafted this story from family stories of her great-grandfather, who was the young protagonist, making this novel something between historical fiction and family lore.
She deftly weaves the family events with historic fact, adding faces to the stories in the history texts. As a midwestern gal myself, I found the perspective of a family from that part of the country to be very interesting. Many other similar works make their settings much closer to the historical action, and it is this unique setting that allows the reader to understand just how all-encompassing the Civil War was for the whole country.
I found the last few chapters to be disappointing, as she seemed to want to rush to the end of the war and hence her story. The writing took on a feeling of newspaper reports of battles, with very little of the narrative from the Creighton family viewpoint that made the book so engrossing.
As a teacher, I feel that the authentic dialect that was used in the dialogue might make for somewhat difficult reading for many kids who struggle with involved text. Nonetheless, a book such as Across Five Aprils makes for a much more interesting and meaningful study of the Civil War than the dry texts we read and forgot.