Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Boy Who Saved Cleveland

The Boy Who Saved Cleveland

James Cross Giblin
Illustrator:  Michael Dooling 
Historical Fiction
For ages 8 to 10
Henry Holt and Co, 2006   ISBN: 978-1627790697

Not long ago Seth and his family left their home in Connecticut, and they came west to live in a small settlement near Lake Erie. The settlement, which is called Cleveland, consists of three simple log cabins and there isn’t even a proper road leading to it. The only way to get to Cleveland is to travel there by boat, which is how Seth, his parents, his sister, and his baby brother got there. There are no schools, no churches, no proper stores, and no doctor anywhere nearby.

Life in Cleveland is hard and Seth misses his former life, a life where there were more books, lots of friends and relatives, and not as much work. Now he and his family members work from dawn to dusk and they still have so little.

What is already a hard life gets even harder one summer’s day when an illness strikes down Seth’s big sister Mercy. Seth takes her place weeding in the cornfield and he is out there when his father collapses. Pa has the same kind of “fever and shakes” that Mercy has and the only thing he can do is to go to bed and rest.

The next morning Pa is too ill to get up and the family needs to have corn ground so that Ma can make cornbread and mush. Seth volunteers to take the corn to be ground. Judge Kinsbury’s mill is two miles from the settlement and you have to walk through woods to get there; woods full of wild animals.

In spite of his concerns, Seth makes it to the mill and back without any problems. When he gets home he finds out that his mother has been struck down by the fever and shakes too. He is the only person in his household who isn’t sick, and his family depends on him to take care of them as best he can.

The next day Seth sets off for the mill again. This time he carries two bags of corn, one for his family and one for the Stiles family. The illness has struck in their cabin too. On the third day Seth has to carry corn for all three families, because the Carters are ill as well. The whole settlement of Cleveland is depending on Seth to bring them the cornmeal that they need to feed themselves, and without his help they will all surely starve or succumb to the sickness.

Based on a true story, this fascinating tale takes us back to 1789 when Cleveland, which is now a huge bustling city of many millions of people, was a settlement of only three houses. Seth is instantly likeable, and his determination to do the right thing at a very difficult time in his life is inspiring. Sometimes heroes come wrapped in very ordinary looking packaging.