Title: Caroline’s Secret Message
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698843
Pages: 93 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

“He told us that the British are planning to send prisoners to Halifax. Oliver thinks that if Papa ends up on a ship to Halifax, he should try to escape.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Mama said. “I’m going to argue for my husband’s release. If I fail, I’ll try to let him know what Oliver advises.”
Uncle Aaron got to his feet and began to pace the room. “But if John does escape, what then?” […]
Aunt Martha explained, “Your father has now way of knowing which families he can trust, or where the British gunboats patrol. If the British were to capture him a second time, he would be treated much more harshly.” (42-43)

When Caroline’s cousin Oliver appears on the road, Caroline expects her father to be right behind him. But Oliver explains that while they might have released him, her father’s knowledge of ship building and refusal to aid the British fleet meant that he is still locked up in prison across the lake in Canada. The War of 1812 has been raging for several months, and Caroline misses her father dearly. Her mother and Caroline embark on an effort to get her father released, but their back-up plan of helping him escape might be in jeopardy. Will Caroline’s father make it back home in time for her birthday?

A subplot that I find equally intriguing as the story of Caroline and her father is the fact that Caroline and her family unexpectedly find themselves opening their home to an Army officer’s wife and two daughters, Rhonda and Amelia. Caroline isn’t too thrilled to have Rhonda initially, and Rhonda is likewise unenthusiastic about their newest move, but the girls find friendship and camaraderie as they both try to deal with their absent fathers. The way their friendship grows seems almost natural as they progress from arguing to the silent treatment to finally mutual apologies. The Looking Back section gives readers information on how the war affected everyone, from families lodging soldiers and their families to men joining the military and women assuming the chores. That last effect reminds me very much of how women pitched in during the World Wars by assuming the men’s jobs and responsibilities.

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