Pride Month Reviews/PPBF – The Fighting Infantryman

Title: The Fighting Infantryman, The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier

Author: Rob Saunders

Illustrator: Nabi H. Ali

 Publisher: little bee books, 06/02/2020

Ages: 4-8

Nonfiction:

Themes: transgender, solder, civil war, immigrant, infantryman, lgbtqia+, civil war history, primary sources, gender identity, war pensions, civil rights

Synopsis:

By the time she arrived in Belvidere, Illinois, and started working as a farmhand, Jennie had a new name and a new identity . . .

Albert D. J. Cashier.

In 1861, the winds of war blew through the United States. Jennie Hodgers, a young immigrant from Ireland, moved west to Illinois and soon had a new name and a new identity–Albert D. J. Cashier. Like many other young men, Albert joined the Union Army. Though the smallest soldier in his company, Albert served for nearly three years and fought in forty battles and skirmishes. When the war ended, Albert continued to live his life as a man. His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.

Decades later, a reporter caught wind of the news that an old man in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home was actually a woman. The news swept through the country. What would happen to Albert and his military pension? Would he be allowed to continue to live as he wished? How would his friends, fellow soldiers, and others in the community react?

Opening:

Jennie Hodgers collected seashells along the windy shores of Clogerhead, County Louth, Ireland.

Why I like this book:

In this picture book, Sanders says of Albert D. J. Cashier that, “His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.” And the way Cashier lived his life “was more than a choice. It was who Albert D.J. Cashier was.” Throughout, Sanders emphasizes the choices that Cashier makes to be true to himself. And while the author makes it clear in the afterword that it was not documented that Albert D.J. Cashier used the word transgender, the sources we have suggest that in 21st century lingo, this was most likely how Cashier would identify. This is the story of a brave man choosing to live his truth from his tweens onwards in a world that would mostly have been hostile to this truth.

I knew nothing about this transgender story, and I am very happy that the author and his publisher boldly chose for the subtitle, “The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier.” I sense that the subject would have been proud of this telling of his story from shepherding in Ireland to young immigrant fighting for the development of his new nation to included rights for all. I love how Sanders weaves the story of the young country and the young man evolving together. These struggles were neither easy for the young man nor the nation, “for a country trying to be what it was meant to be,” and, “a man trying to be who he was meant to be.” These parallels will, I think, help young readers understand how we change and evolve and how now in the 21st century, many/most of us acknowledge that slavery, bigotry, racism, transphobia are all wrong. What a wonderful text to read in these days of needing to raise our voices for the rights of ALL.

I found it moving and motivating to read of Cashier’s life and how at the end when his accident caused the revelation of his anatomy at odds with his gender identity, soldier friends and local Illinois friends supported him, his identity, and his legitimate claim to a civil war pension. Also, I am glad Sanders didn’t shy away from the inevitable misunderstanding and transphobia Cashier also faced.

There is a foreword by a an academic in Transgender Studies that identifies Cashier as a trans man, and I think while this biographical narrative mixes some speculation with its documented facts, it is a text that will help young readers further their understanding of gender identity through history. With the very current discussions in the media about J K Rowlings’ take on transgender women, I do think it is important to help young children understand the essential manhood (and courage) of a transgender man like Cashier, and Sanders uses words and definitions that can be understood by the audience of this book.

It is still a huge challenge to be transgender in the US military, so stories like this bring so much hope. This is a good gateway text to talk to elementary students about transgender men and women in history, their challenges, and their place among us.

Resources/Activities:

This book is published in partnership with GLAAD to accelerate LGBTQ inclusivity and acceptance.

This is a fantastic mentor text for elementary children on using primary sources, and what we can and cannot extrapolate. The back matter contains details, explanations, examples, and photos of the real Cashier; quotes from his friends and comrades taken during the investigation of his veteran’s status; a timeline; a short glossary of military and other terms; and a list of primary sources, one secondary article, and two books about gender identity.

Sanders is clear in an afterward about what we can and cannot know from the sources—that while transgender people have always existed, terminology has changed across time and cultures. Nevertheless, “it’s possible, even likely” that Cashier was transgender.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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9 Responses to Pride Month Reviews/PPBF – The Fighting Infantryman

  1. The quote “His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.” stopped me. Those are such powerful words. I also like the subtitle. Yes, it is bold, but it needed to be stated. This is a great book to share for PPBF.

  2. Oh my, what a powerful story! I can only imagine your excitement in discovering a story about a transgender civil war soldier. So brave during a time when he risked so much. I love how friends supported Albert later in life so that he didn’t lose his benefits. Thank you for sharing today!

    • Joanna says:

      We have started to see contemporary fictional picture books with transgender characters, but this is my first historical PB with a trans character. Great.

  3. I agree with Leslie. What a powerful line and perfect subtitle! So glad you featured this book.

  4. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    An excellent review, Joanna! I’m looking forward to reading this book and plan to attend the book launch hosted by The Writing Barn next Thursday. I’ll be adding this one to my collection. Cheers!

  5. Patricia Nozell says:

    Fabulous choice, Joanna! I love Rob’s work, and I can’t wait to see how he mined the resources to tell this important story.

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