HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: When the Sergeant Came Marching Home
Author: Don Lemna
Illustrator: Matt Collins
Publisher: Holiday House, reprinted in 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0823420834 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0823420833 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0823422111 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0823422119 Paperback
Related website: http://www.holidayhouse.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(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: Said to be for ages 8-12, but I would say 12 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Lemna, Don. When the Sergeant Came Marching Home (published in 2008 by Holiday House Inc., New York City, NY). It is 1946, and ten year old Donald Lemna, going into the fifth grade, lives in a comfortable basement apartment at Wistola, MT, with his mother and his six year old brother Pat. Then his father Edward, who has been a sergeant in the army for the last five years, comes marching home from having rid the world of Nazis during World War II and decides to move the family to a middle-of-nowhere farm near Station Hill, MT, not far from the farm of Mrs. Lemna’s sister and her husband, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Max, and their daughter, cousin Annie. The ramshackle house has neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. The move means having to make new friends, going to a new school, and getting used to a new teacher. It also means working hard trying to make ends meet and not to lose the farm. And it means putting up with mean cousin Annie.
Don feels that the sergeant is ruining his life and that he will soon be dead of excess boredom. So he secretly resolves that just as soon as he can save up ten dollars, he will run away to Hollywood, CA. Will he ever get enough money? Where will it come from? And how will he be able to get away? This novel is full of wry, affectionate humor, especially for those with a totally secular worldview. However, those who hold to a Biblical worldview may find the amusement somewhat dampened by some mild objections. Several childish slang terms for body functions and parts are found, along with some common euphemisms. Mother especially seems to use the words “Lord” and “God” as exclamations. And once, when Don and Pat are told to be on their best behavior for the visiting preacher whom they dislike, they run outside and yell the “d” and “h” words over and over. There are references to dancing, smoking pipes, and drinking beer, brandy, and whiskey, especially Seagram’s; in fact, the sergeant is apparently rather tipsy when he comes home on one occasion.
Assuming that the story by author Don Lemna is somewhat autobiographical, these things could be excused as simply a chronicle of events as they actually happened. And if one is willing to overlook them, there is a witty tale here in Donald’s first person narration that not only illustrates a gift for imagination in playing games outdoors but also notes the maturity that Donald gains in his attitude toward his father, along with providing a good look at farm life and post-World War II America general. The book is illustrated by Matt Collins with small black-and-white drawings, and, as one reviewer suggested, each chapter resembles a short story. While it is never my intention to justify foul language, drinking alcohol, or smoking tobacco, I feel that in this instance the good outweighs the bad, although I would personally not recommend it for ages 8-12 but more for 12 and up, and perhaps even then it would be best done as a family read aloud where some “cleaning up” could be done. There is a sequel, Out in Left Field, in which Lemna offers more of his feel-good, laugh-aloud adventures as an eleven year old growing up in post-World War II Montana.