"This is the story that I tell my grandchildren at Christmas. I hope that this book will bring the tradition of sharing history to families all across America." -- Lynne Cheney
Christmas night, 1776, was a troubled time for our young country. In the six months since the Declaration of Independence had been signed, General George Washington and his troops had suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the British. It looked as though our struggle for independence might be doomed, when Washington made a bold decision. He would lead the main body of his army across the Delaware River and launch a surprise attack on enemy forces. Washington and his men were going against the odds. It seemed impossible that the ragtag Americans could succeed against the mightiest power in the world. But the men who started across the icy Delaware loved their country and their leader. Under his command they would turn the tide of battle and change the course of history. Best-selling author Lynne Cheney tells the dramatic story of the military campaign that began on Christmas night in 1776. When Washington Crossed the Delaware will teach the young about the heroism, persistence, and patriotism of those who came before them.
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A Reading Group Guide to
When Washington Crossed the Delaware By Lynne Cheney with Paintings by Peter M. Fiore
About the Book
“This is the story that I tell my grandchildren at Christmas. I hope that this book will bring the tradition of sharing history to families all across America.”—Lynne Cheney
A straightforward yet elegant text and rich oil paintings bring to life ten critical days in America’s fight for independence. Lynne Cheney describes George Washington’s battle strategies, his struggle to maintain the morale of his exhausted soldiers and the actions his army took to defeat the Hessians at Trenton, and the British and Hessians at Princeton. Her words are complemented by firsthand accounts of the campaign from soldiers, bystanders, and the general himself, as well as illustrator Peter M. Fiore’s powerful battle scenes. A source index and map complete this inspiring true story about the courage and commitment it took to turn the tide of the American Revolution and change the course of history.
• Why was George Washington discouraged at the beginning of the story? What was the condition of the American soldiers?
• Who were the Hessians and what did they think about the American soldiers? Why was their opinion of the Americans helpful to General Washington?
• Who was Thomas Paine and how did he help General Washington?
• In your own words, describe how Washington led his men across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. Did the crossing go exactly as planned?
• Did Washington’s surprise plan work? What did the Hessians do when they saw the Americans? How long did the Battle of Trenton last?
• What did George Washington ask of his weary soldiers after the Battle of Trenton? How did he persuade his troops? What did the soldiers do? If you had been one of Washington’s soldiers at this time, would you have stepped forward? Why or why not?
• How did Washington position his troops before the Battle of Princeton? What did he order his forces on the north side of Assunpink Creek to do?
• What did British General Charles Cornwallis think had happened to Washington and his army? What is he thought to have said about the situation?
• How did the soldiers at Princeton trick the British army? Where were most of Washington’s troops marching? When did Cornwallis realize what the Americans had done?
• What happened to some of the American troops in farmlands outside Princeton? In what danger did Washington find himself during the Battle of Princeton?
• Describe the end of the Battle of Princeton. How did General Washington lead his troops? What did he say to Colonel John Fitzgerald?
• Look at the source notes that follow the story. Who are some of the different people whose thoughts and memories are quoted on the pages of the story? How do their different points of view help readers better understand this moment in history?
• Look at the map at the end of the book. Do you think you could have marched from Trenton to Princeton? How might people get from one of these cities to the other today?
• Why were the American victories at Trenton and Princeton important to the way for independence? What effect did they have on Americans across the land?
• The book begins with a quotation from President Abraham Lincoln, describing the impression the story of Washington crossing the Delaware made on him as a youth. Why do you think this story was so important to Abraham Lincoln? What is most exciting, memorable, or inspiring about this story for you?
• Why is remembering the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware important for young Americans today?
• George Washington was a great military leader who would become a great first president. What did he do to lead his troops well in the difficult winter of 1776? What do you think makes a great leader? What qualities do you think make a great president?
Research and Activities
• Write the script for one scene in a movie based on the book, When Washington Crossed the Delaware, such as Washington meeting with his generals, soldiers boarding boats to cross the river, or Washington asking his troops to continue fighting instead of returning home. Perform your scene for friends or classmates. If possible, wear Revolutionary War costumes and videotape your scene.
• Imagine that you are one of Washington’s weary soldiers at the beginning of the story. Write a journal entry describing the state of your health, your clothing, and your feelings about the situation. Draw a picture of yourself as a soldier to accompany your journal entry.
• Two soldiers at the Battle of Trenton—Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe—would go on to become important American leaders. Research the life of one of these soldiers after the American Revolution. Create a short report that includes a drawing of your chosen person, a time line of his life, and a list of his major contributions to America and its freedom.
• Discuss the ways George Washington used the element of surprise to defeat the Hessians and the British at Trenton and Princeton. Then use details from your discussion to write a poem entitled “George Washington’s Surprise.” Or make up a song based on these details and set your lyrics (words to the song) to a familiar holiday or patriotic tune.
• Go to your library or online to learn more about the river crossed by Washington’s troops. (Hint: Try the education Web page of the Delaware River Basin Commission at www.state.nj.us/drbc/edweb/edweb.htm.) Fold a large sheet of poster paper in half to make a “Delaware River: Then and Now” display. On one half of the poster provide facts, drawings, maps, and other information on the Delaware as it was in 1776. Fill the other half of the page with current-day details about the Delaware River.
• Samplers—pieces of fabric onto which letters, numbers, or sayings were stitched—were found in many early American homes. Create your own sampler with a favorite quote from When Washington Crossed the Delaware. Use colored markers or fabric paints to copy your quote, and the name of its author or speaker, onto a square of fabric, adding small decorative drawings or patterns around the edges. Glue the finished sampler onto a piece of cardboard. Make a hanger by stapling a length of ribbon between the top two corners.
• Imagine you are General Cornwallis outside of Princeton on the afternoon of January 2nd. Write a short speech to give to your British troops, explaining how you will attack the Americans in the morning. Have a friend or classmate imagine that they are General Washington at this same moment. Write a short speech to give to the American troops describing your plan to surprise the British. Take turns presenting the speeches.
• Visit the www.mountvernon.org Web site to learn more about the life of George Washington and his busy Mount Vernon estate. Create a shadowbox of model of one of the buildings, or important rooms, on the Mount Vernon grounds such as the stable, smokehouse, spinning room, or shoemaker’s shop. Present your model to classmates or friends with a brief explanation of how the building was used.
• Using maps, travel guides, and other resources, plan a visit to a famous battlefield from the Revolutionary War. Create a brochure describing your proposed trip. How will you get there? Where will you stay? What will you see? Where might you like to eat? What do you hope to learn? Present your completed brochure to friends, classmates or family members.
• Use watercolors, chalk, or other media to create your own illustration for a favorite moment in the story. Or, draw a portrait of General George Washington inspired by paintings or drawings found in your classroom, library, or online.
• Learn more about the American Revolution and the country’s early days with one of the following research activities. Make a list of key Revolutionary War battles and plot their locations on a map. Make a tape-recorded explanation of how the war ended, complete with sound effects. Draw portraits and write brief biographies of important early Americans. Write a short report about the Declaration of Independence. Make a replica of the first American flag.
• Hold an American Revolution Day in your home or classroom. Dress in period costumes. Play patriotic music. Serve early American foods. Read aloud When Washington Crossed the Delaware and other stories about famous Americans and great moments in American history.
About the Author
Lynne Cheney has loved American history since she was a child and hopes to inspire children with stories of our past. “America’s story is a compelling one,” she says, “and it helps us understand how fortunate we are to live in freedom.” Mrs. Cheney, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, is a widely published author whose best-selling works for children include America: A Patriotic Primer and A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women. She co-authored one of her books, a history of the U.S. House of Representatives, with her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney. A former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mrs. Cheney is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The Vice President and Mrs. Cheney have two daughters and four grandchildren.
About the Illustrator
Peter M. Fiore has illustrated many books for children, including Touching the Sky: The Flying Adventures of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Louise Borden and Trish Marx, and Henry David’s House, edited by Steven Schnur. Mr. Fiore has been interested in art since he was a young boy, and in addition to his book work, he is well known as a fine artist. Mr. Fiore has received many awards and citations for his editorial illustration, including a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators. He lives along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania with his family.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Lynne Cheney’s most recent book is the New York Times bestseller, We the People: The Story of Our Constitution, illustrated by Greg Harlin. She is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers America: A Patriotic Primer, A Is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, A Time for Freedom: What Happened When in America, and Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, and has written a memoir, Blue Skies, No Fences. Mrs. Cheney is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
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