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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Irene Hunt was born May 8, 1907 in the town of Pontiac, Illinois. Her family moved to Newton, Illinois while she was still a baby. There she grew up on the family farm, which became the setting of Huntís first novel Across Five Aprils. (This book was not published until Hunt was fifty-seven years old.)
Her father died when she was seven. This traumatic experience provided the basis for the opening scene of Huntís second novel, Up A Road Slowly, where a young girl must come to terms with the death of her mother.
Hunt graduated from the University of Illinois in 1939, and earned her Masters degree from the University of Minnesota in 1946. She also pursued advanced graduate work in psychology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. During the 1930ís and early 1940ís Hunt taught French and English in Oak Park, Illinois. Then she went to South Dakota where she taught psychology.
In the 1950ís she went back to Illinois to again teach French and English, this time in the Cicero schools. There she became the Director of Language Arts in 1965.
The central focus of Irene Huntís writing is to teach history through literature. The Civil War story, Across Five Aprils (1964), which won The Charles W. Follett Award in 1964, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award and the Clara Ingram Judson Memorial Award in 1965, as well as being named a Newberry Honor Book that same year, and winning the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1966, was her first novel.
It was followed by Up a Road Slowly (1966), the Newberry Medal winner of 1967. This was also one of the books given to the White House by the American Bookseller Association in 1970. Huntís next work was Trail of Apple Blossoms (1968). In 1969, Irene Hunt retired from teaching to write full time. She then published No Promises in the Wind (1970), The Lottery Rose (1976), William (1977), Claws of a Young Country (1980), and finally Everlasting Hills (1985), which won the Parentsí Choice Award in 1985.
Across Five Aprils begins at a time in history when the nation was ďgrave and absorbed in the anxious thoughts of that springĒ. The events behind these feelings were the seeds of the American Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln had hoped to cool the nationís passion with his inaugural address, but on his fist day in office he received the news that Major Anderson was running out of supplies at Fort Sumter. Within weeks, Northern newspapers carried stories that Andersonís men would be pulled out, though Lincoln, in reality, had given no such order. Public opinion supported the reinforcement of Fort Sumter at all costs. Lincoln, however, chose to resupply provisions only, not men, arms or ammunition, unless the fort was attacked.
The character Cousin Wilse Graham accurately interprets the historically supported motives and purposes behind Lincolnís plan when Wilse stops by the Creighton house (Chapter 2) and the family discusses the war. The ensuing attack on Fort Sumter elicited a rallying response in the North, and forced the other states to choose whether to align themselves with the North or the South. This marked the beginning of the war. The dilemma of the individual states was also the dilemma of individual families. This is illustrated by the characters John and Bill Creighton, dear brothers, who fight violently when they discover they have chosen different sides (Chapter 3).
The battle at Pittsburgh Landing [Shiloh] described in Chapter 5 was the first battle that had casualties in excess of 20,000 - more than Manassas, Wilsonís Creek, Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge combined. It launched the country into total war. Public opinion was for, and then against Grant, then for him again when it was realized, especially by Illinoisans, that Pittsburgh Landing was a strategic success. This vacillation of public opinion forms a major theme in Across Five Aprils. Hunt presents the differing views by having the events of the war described alternately by newspapers, conversations, first hand accounts, and letters from soldiers.
In this manner the novel progresses, informing the reader on Civil War history as the story of Jethro Creighton evolves. Uniquely, the war drives the story rather than acts as a simple backdrop as in other Civil War novels. Much of the book draws on stories and recollections of Huntís grandfather who, like Jethro, was a boy of nine at the beginning of the Civil War. But in addition to family records and letters, Hunt adds knowledge from extensive research into Civil War history. Across Five Aprils is as much a history lesson and chronicle of the times as it is the story of a young boy coming of age during the American Civil War.