My Brother Sam is Dead, James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

It’s Banned Book Week! This week, I’m reading the Newbery Honor Book that has landed on number 12 on challenged books for the 1990’s and number 27 in the 2000’s, My Brother Sam is Dead. I’m primarily reading it because a class I regularly sub for has been reading it, but there’s BBW as well . I feel like I may have read it before as a seventh grader, but I could have gotten it confused with Johnny Tremain. All I know is we had an American Revolution day back in the days before standardized tests ruined school.

I’m gonna make this short and sweet today. I need to get this back to the teacher! 🙂

  • Revolutionary War Novel
  • The Meeker family (Eliphelet, aka “Life,” the dad, Susannah the mom, Sam the older brother, Tim the younger) run and live in a tavern in an area highly populated with Tories.
  • Sam Meeker is a 16-year old, high strung college boy and he decides to join the Rebel/Continental Army.
  • “Life” is not pleased. He has Tory tendencies but really just doesn’t think war should happen, ever.
  • Tim– who I think is 13 when the novel opens– is just very, very confused. “It’s not just two views, it’s six.”


  • Dad dies on a British prison ship after he is captured en route to deliver oxen. Tim is travelling with him at the time, but a couple miles back so that if something were to happen he could get away.
  • Mom and Tim have to run the tavern by themselves.
  • Sam comes back home to visit while the army is stationed there. He tries to stop people from stealing the family’s cattle, but they frame him. Despite Tim and Susannah going, “Sam wasn’t stealing his family’s cattle,” Sam is shot by the Patriot army.

Bookworm’s Comments: 

  • I don’t feel too bad about giving the book away. I mean, geez, you know from the title SAM IS DEAD. Thanks.
  • It was very interesting from a historical perspective. I liked how no one was *good* or *bad* at the end. War just sucks. You can’t really root for anyone. When your side decapitates someone, um, oh gee, would you look at the time? (back out slowly). Not to mention, Sam and Life ended up dying at the hands of “their side”.
  • I find “Life” to be an interesting nickname. I don’t want to call it ironic, but yeah, little bit in that he’s living in a war. That’s what he wants more than anything– life for his sons. But… yeah…

Class Stuff: 

Grades: The authors originally intended it for seventh and eighth, but a sixth grader should be okay. 
Grade: B  I’m just not that into war novels. And I hate that the title warns you, “major character will not be there at the end.”

Challenge-Worthy? It’s kind of violent. There really is a beheading, I was joking about the reaction but not the event.  There are a few  cuss words, but mostly, “damn it” and “bastard”. They live in a tavern, thus, they drink ale (which, historically accurate, everyone drank ale because it was safer than water). After losing half of her family, Susannah couldn’t care less about who was winning and she actually flat out refused to sell to Continental Soldiers after Sam was shot.

Look, it’s a novel about war. It’s a WELL-RESEARCHED NOVEL ABOUT WAR. Like, it came from a dissertation, well-researched. Of course it’s going to be violent! I don’t care how glorious winning our Independence was, war is bloody. This was also published in the Vietnam Era. People are pretty cynical about war at this point. They’re open to the message that “America” is not perfect. (This is one of the reasons it’s challenged– it’s unpatriotic.) Just because I’m difficult, the Patriots were rebelling against their country, ya know, so… who were the patriots at the time?

But all that is beside the point, really. It’s a dark, historically accurate novel about war. I’m not bothered by a dark novel about war, since war is dark.

Would I fight to keep it in my classroom?  Honestly, I had to research WHY it was challenged. Nowadays people are so desensitized to violence, mild cursing, and “un-American” messages that nothing really raised my eyebrow. Well, yeah, the decapitation was gross. There were a few other gross descriptions of war. They were over relatively quickly. That’s the beauty of reading, a random decapitation, just skim over it.

PERSONALLY, I would rather not teach the novel, unless it was for a specific purpose. Collaboration with the Social Studies teacher? Cool, let’s do it. But it’s not one of my favorites, so I would probably neglect prepping for it if I taught it. There will be a few copies of Sam floating around my classroom. So, yes, I would fight to keep it in my classroom simply because it’s a classic and it’s a realistic look at the Revolutionary War. But it would be optional reading. I’ll also get feedback from my kids who are reading it currently, and I may get back with you to share their opinions. 🙂

PS– The kids I sub for  like it, except one. They all kind of indicated it was difficult to understand, but the one sweet girl I have pointed out the G– damn. There are some kids who are still sensitive to that, but if you’re being understanding to the kids about controversial stuff, it should be okay.



Filed under Action, Challenged/Banned Book, Historical fiction, Middle school (6-8)

2 responses to “My Brother Sam is Dead, James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

  1. Ha, we read this in 8th grade. We had a quiz on it and one of the questions was, “How do we know that Sam will die?” I swear I wasn’t trying to be a pain in the ass, I just really didn’t see any other answer – I wrote “Because the title of the book is ‘ My Brother Sam Is Dead.'” That was not the right answer; apparently the question SHOULD have read “what foreshadowing in the book leads us to believe Sam will die?” Oops. 😛

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