Sarah Bishop by Scott O’ Dell is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl fending for herself at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It is part history, part survival, and part coming-of-age; a story that though set at the start of America’s history, still has lessons to teach today.
Scott O’ Dell has won several awards both for individual books and for his body of work. These awards include the John Newbery Medal, 1961; Hans Christian Andersen Award, 1972; the FOCAL Award, 1981; Mark Twain Nominee, 1982; and the Parents’ Choice Award, 1986.
The Scott O’ Dell Award was established in 1982 and, according to the Scott O’ Dell website, “The annual award of $5,000 goes to an author for a meritorious book published in the previous year for children or young adults. Scott O’Dell established this award to encourage other writers–particularly new authors–to focus on historical fiction. He hoped in this way to increase the interest of young readers in the historical background that has helped to shape their country and their world.” Past winners of this award include Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, 1998; The Land by Mildred D. Taylor, 2002; and Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, 2008.
Sarah Bishop was published by Houghton Miffilin in 1980 and is about a young girl living on Long Island, New York as the War for Independence is getting under way. Her mother died when she was a child and that has left Sarah responsible for the cooking and cleaning of the household which includes her father, a Loyalist, and her older brother, a Patriot. Before long Sarah’s brother has joined the army and her father is dead, his death caused by The Skinners, a band of rabble rousers determined to bring the cause of independence about by any means.
Sarah sets off in search of her brother and in the process is deemed a criminal by the British. When she learns her brother has been captured and died in prison, she heads west to the wilderness. She finally makes her home in a cave situated near Long Pond (really a lake), a couple days hike from a village with the name of Ridgeford. She lives there through a winter, coming into contact with a few visitors that are both human and beast. The story ends with Sarah returning to her cave at the end of the summer, but with a new-found friend in Ridgeford that she promises to visit.
This is an entertaining and educational book for both adults and children in middle grades and up. The Revolutionary War serves as a backdrop and a means to propel the story forward, but never seems to bog down the story with historical facts. Sarah is a likable character and both boys and girls will admire her determination to survive on her own and the real fears she expresses. Sarah exhibits the tough-as-nails character that was needed to build America into a country free from the monarchy of England.
Accurate detail is given in the descriptions of life in the late 1700s, whether it is about the way food is prepared or how to make a dug out canoe. There are characters in the story that are Native American and Quakers and both are dealt with accurately and without discrimination. In fact there are shown to be both “good” and “bad” characters within both of these groups of people, just as there are “good” and “bad” characters that are Loyalists and Patriots.
This book would make an excellent addition to fifth grade classrooms studying the American Revolution and the real people, not just the famous people, that helped to establish a new country. It accurately portrays the difficulty of choosing sides, even within families, that often occurred. It also contains several descriptions of the foods, clothing, and tools that were commonly used during this historical period.
Sarah Bishop and all of Scott O’ Dell’s books can be found in libraries and used and new bookstores throughout the country. If you live in northern California, try one of the following locations.
- Mono County Library
- Placer County Library
- San Benito County Free Library