Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal
Written by Tonya Bolden
Capital Days is a stunning new look at the beginnings of our Capital City, Washington D.C. This goes beyond a regular history of the Capital building and city because this is a personal view of what was happening day by day on the streets as experienced by one man.
Many of the excerpts come from the diary of a finally freed man named, Michael Shiner. He wrote what he saw, felt, and believed. The primary research undertaken by Tonya Bolden, a highly awarded nonfiction author, is very well done. Everything in the book is backed up with actual photographs and explicit citations. Primary sources are quoted throughout.
Readers are treated to an inside look at daily life from the early to the mid-19th century. In Michael Shiner’s last entry in his book, he noted that he had witnessed eleven Presidents take office. He witnessed the burning and rebuilding of Washington, the labor disputes, the slave struggles to become free, Lincoln’s inauguration, even the workmen dropping the cornerstone for the Washington monument into the river by accident. The inclusion of real photographs from the time, as well as newspaper clippings, will help readers keep in constant mind this is about things that really happened.
From his work inside the Navy yard Michael sees and hears things that others would not. He witnesses an early labor strike and is affected when workers are not allowed to take their lunch baskets into the yard because of too much theft. Michael is not afraid to write what he sees. It is, after all, just a book for himself, to help him remember what happened. But now, generations later, we can see through his eyes our Capital struggling to be built.
After his retirement from the Navy yard he continues to work within the city as a contractor himself until he is infected with smallpox and dies. It is no small miracle that his personal book is and has been in the Library of Congress since early 1900. We are all fortunate that it was found by Tonya and used to create this marvelous, readable nonfiction narrative.
Throughout the book, a timeline of the Capital is included. While many of the points have to do with the Capital building itself, such as inaugurations and passed bills, it also includes news from around the city like the burning of the theater or the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington monument.
Abrams published this volume with heavy, glossy paper, clear reproductions of lithographs and woodprints from hundreds of years ago. It is a stunningly beautiful volume worthy of the high level of scholarship that went into its creation.
The end papers contain a marvelous collection of selected source material, glossary, index, author’s note and chapter by chapter notes. This book can be used to meet all the core curriculum standards in history, nonfiction reading and research. It would be very useful to grade five and grade six readers and beginning researchers. Teachers and librarians will be thrilled to add this to their collection of American history books.
- Title: Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal
- Author: Tonya Bolden
- Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
- Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
- Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-0733-9
- Genre: Nonfiction, History, Washington D.C.
- Grade level: 4 to 7
- Extras: Glossary, Index, Author Notes, Selected Sources, Notes (chapter by chapter)