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Night of the Cossack--historical fiction novel Review by John Hamre

Tom Blubaugh
Authors Community
Springfield, MO

The Night of the Cossack, written by Tom Blubaugh, is set in what is now known as Ukraine in 1905. The timeline is established in the book through events such as the ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre, the Russo-Japanese War, and the labor strikes leading to the Odessa pogrom. The Night of the Cossack is about a young 16-year-old man named Nathan Hertzfield.  

This book begins with an introduction to the author and his family. This book is an introduction to Mr. Blubaugh’s grandfather -as he imagined him.

The story begins during a raid of Nathan’s village by Cossacks.  Nathan is captured by one of the Cossacks. The rest of the story covers his life in the years following his capture. I found the story engaging and fun to read.  I believe students will not have difficulty getting into the story and may even want to read more than one day’s worth of material.  

One of the more interesting items in the story is Nathan must change his name multiple times.  Each time Nathan changes his name, the author changes the character’s name as well. For example, when the character changes his name from Nathan to Stepan, the author no longer refers to him as Nathan but calls him Stepan. This happens more than once in the book. It gives the impression you are helping Nathan guard his secret.  

The book we received is structured specifically for homeschooling families. It includes a built-in Literature Based Curriculum Guide Lesson Plan. The Table of Contents is a handy guide to see which chapters are included for each day of the ten-day lesson plan. The entire book can be covered during those ten days. For our family though we would stretch it out covering one lesson day over two school days.  This would allow us to read it aloud, do any extra exploring and have time to discuss what we read.

The Lesson Plan includes sections for language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.  Mr. Blubaugh also includes a moral dilemma question in each day’s lesson plan.The questions and exercises relate to the material in the reading for that day, however, the math and science questions do not always follow that rule.  

The section for Language Arts in Day 1 includes more assignments than the other nine days. For Day 1, the students answer some comprehension questions, explore descriptive words from the reading and define several terms. Like the other Language Arts sections, Lesson 1 includes essay questions. For Days 2 through 10, the questions are a combination of comprehension questions and essay questions.  

The math and science sections cover one topic per lesson.  Topics for math include temperature conversion (as a formula), area (of a square, surface area) and volume. Many of the science assignments include watching a video. Students will learn about the sun. On another day they will learn about the weather.  

Like the science assignments, the social studies assignments often include a video. Students will explore the American Underground Railroad in one lesson and study types of government in another.  At least one assignment includes an essay based on the research from the day before.  

The moral dilemma question asks students for example ‘think of all the things Nathan gave up for safety.  Would you give up those things? Why or why not?’  

These lesson plans easily allow for the book to be used as a unit study. The story provides descriptions of Cossack life and society, the situation for Jews in Europe in general.  If you are unfamiliar with these concepts, by the end of the book you have at least a basic grasp of them.  

I think students overall will enjoy the story, and for those homeschooling families with older children who have a literature-based approach will find this easy to incorporate.  It is detailed, yet easy to read. The exercises allow for use as a unit study covering multiple subjects.

I recommend including this book with its lesson plans in a study of world history or twentieth-century history.  For families interested in current events in Ukraine, this book is a fantastic way to learn about the history behind the modern-day conflicts. 

-Product review by John Hamre, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2020