The Snake Fence, by Janet Kastner Olshewsky
Reviewed by Deborra Sines Pancoe,
Friends Council on Education
Noble Butler is a teen living in Chester County in 1755. The split rail fence on his family farm serves as a metaphor for the dilemmas Noble faces throughout this engaging young adult novel.
Noble aspires to be a woodworker and master craftsman – not the farmer his father hopes he will be. Yearning for adventure, Noble joins a wagon train carrying supplies to General Braddock, whose English soldiers are fighting the French and Native Americans. His Quaker family is against violence and war, but supplying the British soldiers with food and necessities seems an acceptable way to earn some extra money – money that Noble plans to use to buy woodworking tools to fulfill his dream.
Against the backdrop of the French and Indian Wars, readers see through Noble Butler’s eyes the conflict between Native American people and the European settlers who encroach upon their lands in colonial Pennsylvania. Noble wants to be true to the peaceful ways of his Quaker upbringing, yet he wrestles with fear and outrage as he witnesses the effects of war. The novel’s treatment of this disturbing period challenges the reader’s sympathies.
The Snake Fence offers adventure, a little romance, a smattering of Quaker history and enough about Quaker values and beliefs to communicate the essence of this religion to readers who probably know little of the history and legacy of Friends.
By the end, Noble learns what it means to act in accordance with one’s belief, sometimes risking one’s own hopes, dreams and even personal safety. The reader gets wrapped up in Noble’s musings and feels a sense of empathy for this teen, who sits on the “snake fence” wondering on which side he belongs.
What Readers Say about The Snake Fence
Francis Holleran, Past President of Florida Council for the Social Studies and the National Social Studies Supervisors Association says:
Janet Olshewsky’s book~The Snake Fence~is a great read for any middle school age student! The book is a time machine that will transport the reader back to the frontier region of Pennsylvania with the story of Noble Butler, a Quaker teenager struggling to define his future during the French and Indian War in Pennsylvania. The Snake Fence provides rich insight into life and politics of the colonial period, while exploring the tensions between settlers, Native Americans, and government officials leading readers to examine their own values. This book would be a welcome addition to any classroom or library…it makes a great read-aloud! Discussion questions and suggested research topics for each chapter offer valuable aids to teachers or book group leaders.
David Travaskis, Esq.,past and incoming president of the Pennsylvania Council of Social Studies, says:
Janet Olshewsky’s The Snake Fence is a labor of love, the product of more than a decade’s research and writing, and the result is a magnificent story of the French and Indian War in Pennsylvania. Olshewsky, a teacher turned author, employs a narrative style that students of all ages will be drawn to, raising questions about the morality of war that have no easy answers. Her exploration of Quaker values informs the story but this is more than a primer for those of a single faith; it is a book that teaches as it challenges the reader to explore important issues.
As a longtime social studies educator, the past president and current president-elect of the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies, this is exactly the kind of book I would like to share with my students. Thank you to the author for this gift to the field.
Mary Reindorp, language arts teacher, Wallingford Swarthmore Middle School, Wallingford, PA, says:
As a middle level teacher, this is a book I’ve long hoped to find. The moral questions of war and peace that Noble Butler, the main character, faces are as pertinent to our modern world as to America during the French and Indian Wars. The book is richly imagined, a tapestry of historical detail. The landscape of Colonial Pennsylvania springs to life on every page, from bustling Philadelphia to the frontier where conflicts rage. The drama of each chapter propels the reader on. Noble wins our hearts, finding a way to act decisively as he searches to clarify the values he wants to live.
Deborah A. Sax, Delaware County Historical Society, Educator, and former Education Director, Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, says:
Janet K. Olshewsky tells a wonderful story that young audiences will enjoy. It is a story about a young farm boy, Noble Butler, who explores his boundaries within his own Quaker family beliefs and the new experiences he discovers in Colonial Philadelphia and the frontier.
Linda Muentener, Literacy Coach at Gibbs High School, Pinellas County, Florida, says:
The Snake Fence, by Janet Olshewsky, traces a young man’s struggle to define himself within his family, his religious community, and the greater culture prior to the American Revolution, a time when ideals of peace contrasted sharply with ideas of survival. The characters represent a range of cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives carefully crafted so that the accuracy of their representation does not interfere with the story. The result is an engaging account of thought, action, and personal and political growth made accessible to young and old alike.
More Than an Average Guy: The Biography of Larry Patton
by Janet Kastner
“An inspiring Christian story of how a family faced and conquered the challenge of living with a handicapped youngster. This is a story that everybody will enjoy because of its great human touch.” Ernie Harweell, WJR Radio
“Larry Patton has lived an extraordinary life of challenge and conquest, setbacks and triumphs, doubts defeated by faith, hope and a persistent, indomitable will. His story is written in ‘home-made’ style, down to earth, candid and ‘reader friendly.” Terence D. Vaughan, Administrator, The Detroit Institute for Children
“His life is an example of how God can work in extraordinary ways in ordinary people. God took what could have been a negative, defeating, depressing situation and brought about victory. This book relives that story. It will cause you to hurdle your handicap, whether it be one seen or known to you on the inside.” Josh DcDowell, Bible teacher, lecturer, and staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ.