The Civil War of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali

Hello, Michael Leali! For a few weeks before we met in person for the first time, multiple people told me about an AMAZING children’s bookseller at Anderson’s Bookshop. They were all right! You talk about books from the heart. Three years later, I’m OVERJOYED you’re here to celebrate your debut novel, The Civil War of Amos Abernathy.

Let’s start with a tour of Ariel Vittori’s cover illustration and Corina Lupp’s cover design.

Michael Leali: I’m obsessed with everything Ariel and Corina did to bring Amos Abernathy to life. Seeing him front and center, wearing his orange LGBTQ+ pride t-shirt, gave me total chills the first time I saw it. Honestly, it still does. Slung around his shoulder is his trusty haversack, a large canvas bag, where he keeps his prized journal of letters and research. On the left side of Amos is one of my favorite features of the cover: an illustration of a photograph of Albert D.J. Cashier, the real-life Union soldier from Illinois who is central to Amos finding his queer roots in American history. Among the other documents and photos surrounding Amos, you’ll find one of his notes to Albert. Half of the story is told in letters that he writes to the deceased Civil War soldier who becomes his silent confident and historical hero. I’m totally in love with the fonts and color scheme too. Orange was my favorite color growing up. It feels like kismet.

Speaking of Anderson’s Bookshop, I placed shelftalkers all over my former school library inspired by Anderson’s shelftalkers. What would you write on a shelftalker about The Civil War of Amos Abernathy?

Michael Leali: I loved writing shelftalkers when I worked at Anderson’s Bookshop! This is such a great question. Aside from “YOU NEED THIS BOOK IN YOUR LIFE” and “YOUR TBR PILE IS INCOMPLETE WITHOUT ME,” I’d go with this: This contemporary middle grade coming-of-age story is a celebration of queer community, first crushes, finding yourself in the past and present, and ensuring that you are seen in the future. An unputdownable read that will make you beam with pride.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Albert D.J. Cashier is the central historical figure of The Civil War of Amos Abernathy. Today, he most likely would have identified as a trans man. Assigned female at birth in Ireland in 1843, Albert immigrated to America as a young adult and settled in Belvidere, Illinois. From there, he enlisted with the 95th Illinois Infantry and fought for three years during the Civil War. Albert used he/him pronouns and identified as a man before he enlisted in the war and until he passed away in 1915. Much like Amos, I felt a strong sense of connection to my own queer roots when I found Albert in my research for this book. I didn’t grow up knowing about the LGBTQ+ community or history, and I wish I had. Learning more about Albert, and writing this book, has made me feel more connected to the past and my queer community than ever before. My hope is that this story can help all readers, especially young queer individuals, feel that connection too.

Saunemin, Illinois, is where Albert D.J. Cashier made his home after the Civil War ended. He worked in the community for a long time in various jobs, everything from a cemetery worker to a custodian at a local church. One of the coolest things is that Albert’s house is still in Saunemin! In April of this year, I had a chance to drive down and tour his one room home. Some of the original wood still exists, but much of it has required restoration; the house has been moved several times, and now rests very close to its original location. Getting to stand where Albert stood was a powerful experience. I am so grateful that I had a chance to visit his home and grave, and I am so thankful to Al Arnolts, one of the local historians who has helped keep Albert’s memory alive, for graciously showing around me and my trusty travel companion for the day, my wonderful mom.

Story is the greatest tool we have to develop empathy. My hope is that all readers can come to this story and find their world and heart expand a little more, that they can feel for others in a deeper and more meaningful way. I am a firm believer that books aren’t for specific audiences—not boys or girls, adults or children, gay people or straight people, trans people or cis people. Stories are for everyone, and the stories we read, especially those from outside our lived experience, can have the greatest impact on who we will be tomorrow. For myself, I hope that tomorrow I am always a kinder, more loving version of the person I am today.

John Schu, you should have asked me
how much of this is based on my own life experience! I share a lot of things in common with my main character, Amos Abernathy, and his friends. Like them, I was a nineteenth century historical reenactor but only from fourth grade to about seventh grade. I loved the theatricality of reenacting and how much it felt like time traveling. I usually dressed up in overalls and a plain button-up shirt. Like Amos, I had a haversack containing all my essential equipment for volunteering. Lessons at the one-room schoolhouse were always a delight, using my slate (miniature chalkboard) and chalk pens (very skinny pieces of chalk) to participate in spelling bees and practice handwriting. We also played a lot of classic games and showed off toys popular in the nineteenth century. One of my favorites was a game called skittles, which combines a spinning top with bowling on a sort of foosball-ish table. This game ends up playing a pretty big part in Amos and his friend (and crush) Ben’s story. If folks haven’t had the chance to experience a reenactment or visit a historical site, I highly recommend it. My time as a historical reenactor completely changed my perspective on the past and the present.

Thank you, Michael! Congratulations! 

A historical reenactor in his youth, Michael Leali is now a writer and educator. When he’s not dreaming up stories, he’s probably playing a board game, eating cheese, or grading papers somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago.

Look for The Civil War of Amos Abernathy on May 24, 2022. 

Twelve-year-old Amos Abernathy, an openly gay historical reenactor, sets out to prove to himself and his closeted crush that queer people always have and always will exist in American history. The contemporary middle grade novel is told partly in letters to Albert D.J. Cashier, the Union soldier uncovered by Amos’s research, who becomes his confidant and historical queer icon.


Popular Posts