For me, making history come to life is the key to making it memorable. The
End of August is told mostly in the voice of Anna, a ninety-six
year old woman, whose final days are filled with reliving favorite
and not-so-favorite memories from her life at the turn of the
twentieth century. Written almost like a diary, The End of
August offers a history lesson with vivid images and unforgettable
The book opens with Anna in a chicken coop playing with soft and
fluffy baby chicks. She is secretive about it because she doesn't
want her husband and children, who are working out in the fields,
to see her softer side. We're soon whisked into the world of farm
life and its hard lessons and simple pleasures. From birthing babies
to surviving a monster ice storm to delighting in the first signs
of spring, Anna's account of life in rural Illinois is familiar
and satisfying to those of us who grew up on Little House books.
We're with Anna as she cans her bountiful harvest and when she
and her husband Fred see an airplane for the first time as it flies
over their farm. We learn about threshing, doctors' house calls, "tramps" in
the barn, and the dreaded word "QUARANTINE." Food was prepared
from scratch, travel was mostly by horse and buggy, and at summer's
end feather beds were shaken and set in the sun to prepare for
winter use. There were horses to tame, church and social events
to attend, and roads to build. Other highlights included saving
the mare stuck in the cesspool, the solar eclipse, saving the crops
from army ants, and the first availability of electricity. Occasionally,
the reader is offered insight from Emma, Anna's daughter, who admires
the strength and virility of her mother. She shares a few memories
with Anna, and the closeness of their relationship is apparent.
The End of August is appropriate for middle school-aged
kids and up. It could be used as part of history or language arts.
The lessons in faith would make a good study as well. I enjoyed
it as a casual read.
Pros: Our lives are so far removed from the circumstances
and simplicity of the early 1900s that reliving the lessons and
witnessing the characters is worthy for all. The chapters are mostly
just a few pages each and make for easy reading.
Cons: Some of the writing is choppy and the flow is
bumpy, especially and unfortunately at the beginning and the very
end. I also felt a little lost at some of the transitions between
the present and past.
The bottom line is that I would recommend this book to anyone
fascinated with history or biographies. The colorful and sometimes
blunt descriptions and the varied recollections of events are interesting
and memorable--the best compliment of all.