Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital



Book: Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital

Author: Tonya Bolden

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-1419707339

ISBN-10: 1419707337

Related website: (publisher)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 10 – 14

Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Bolden, Tonya.  Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital (published in 2015 by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Abrams, 115 W. 18th St., New York City, NY  10011).  Michael Shiner (c. 1804/1805-1880) was an African-American male born into slavery in Maryland.  His original owner was William Pumphrey Jr. of Piscataway, MD, but he was sold to Thomas Howard Sr., chief clerk of the U. S. Navy Yard in Washington, DC, where Michael was put to work in the Ordinary.  After obtaining his freedom following Howard’s death, he continued working in the Navy Yard for a time before becoming involved in other jobs in the nation’s capital.  He had learned to read and write and kept a diary or journal in an old shop book that included his observations on the British sacking of Washington, DC, during the War of 1812, the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816, the rebuilding of the Capitol and the White House, the raising of the Washington Monument, the Civil War, and the end of slavery, among other things.

However, Capital Days is not just a biography of Michael Shiner.  Author Tonya Bolden, who has won several awards including the Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Maritcha, uses Shiner’s life and writings as a backdrop to chronicle a period of immense change in our country and its capital.  The book includes excerpts from Shiner’s diary and other primary sources, and is liberally illustrated with paintings, photographs, drawings, and other archival images.  Each of the four chapters has a timeline.  An author’s note in the back contains further information and is followed by a glossary.  Finally, there is an index to make the volume useful for reference purposes.  It is interesting that in his early life, Shiner often got “spirited” at a tavern and was evidently quite a drinker, but later in his life he gave up drinking.  Capital Days is a fascinating look for young adults into a very important period of our nation’s history.

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