President Lincoln, Willie Kettles, and the Telegraph Machine (History Speaks Picture Books Plus Reader’s Theater)

President Lincoln, Willie Kettles, and the Telegraph Machine (History Speaks Picture Books Plus Reader's Theater)

By: Marty Rhodes Figley
Publisher: Lerner Classroom
Publication Date: August 2010
ISBN: 978-0761361312
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: October 2010

In 1865 many young people like fifteen-year-old Willie Kettles were telegraph experts. He sat dreamily at the breakfast table tapping out a message on Mrs. Paul's china. "Tap! Tap-tap! Tap-tap-tap!" He was working for the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps and "was their youngest operator." Willie lived in Mrs. Paul's boardinghouse, a house nestled amid the lively city of Washington where he worked. Even though the Civil War was in full swing, the city was open for business. The war "between the Northern and Southern states had been going on for four years," but many like Willie still considered Washington City the nation's capital. Others firmly embraced Richmond, Virginia as their capital.

The North, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, had been trying to capture Richmond for almost a year, but they were unsuccessful. Capturing the city would signal the end of the war, at which time President Lincoln would welcome the South back into the union. Willie too had an important job to do and he was anxious to do his best, but one day he was distracted and began to browse the books in the office, a room that had been a library at one point in time. He was soon reprimanded by the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton.

As Stanton was warning him to stay at his desk, saying, "Lack of attention in the telegraph office may cause an important message to be missed!," President Lincoln entered the room. The consequences could have been dire and Willie's face showed the pain of embarrassment. Lincoln sized up the situation and instead of adding to his pain, gently "leaned over and ruffled Willie's hair." President Lincoln quickly sat down to relay a story of a time he had been embarrassed. It was soon back to work and it wouldn't be long before there would be an important message coming over the wires. What was this very special message that the war department's youngest operator would have the privilege of receiving? Would he be able to redeem himself in the eyes of Stanton?

This is the amazing story of Willie Kettles, a young telegraph operator who received one of the most important messages in U.S. history. The way this story was presented made a simple job seem very exciting and interesting. I've read a couple in this series (History Speaks: Picture Books Plus Reader's Theater) and marvel at the way young men and women come alive in the pages. This tale shows us all that even someone with a seemingly inconsequential job can make a big difference in how history is played out. The artwork is very vibrant with a wonderfully nostalgic touch and meshes perfectly with the story. This book also introduces "Reader's Theater," a tool that can be used in the classroom. There are instructions and a full script that can be duplicated so each student can read their part. In addition there is more information on the importance of the telegraph, a glossary, a selected bibliography, and additional book and website resources to explore.

Quill says: This is the amazing story of Willie Kettles, a young telegraph operator who received a message critical to U.S. history!

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