where the writers are
Untitled
Date of Review: 
Dec.20.1987
Published Work: 
Reviewer: 
R.H. Eversole
Source: 
Skyline Magazine

Milligan, who has written three books for children and young adults, including You Are There: Battle of the Alamo, recalls reading Margaret Cousins' The Boy in the Alamo as a child. "I grew up as a kid who swallowed the myth of the Alamo whole," he says. Milligan reassesses his point of view on historical issues in these books. In You Are There: Comanche Captive, Milligan tells the Indians' side of the story in the Texas Indian Wars of the 1870s. He speaks of the "uncalculated cruelty" of settlers who threw infected bedding out of the backs of their wagons. Indians would then find them and use the bedding. "This genocide was never recorded in Texas history books," he says.

In Comanche Captive, Milligan's female narrator questions the concept of civilization after Europeans kill two-thirds of a Comanche village in an attempt to rescue her. "The Comanche story was a story that needed to be told," he says. For Milligan, writing for children and young adults is "a political thing." He wants to expose his readers to different points of view than they receive in standard textbooks. "I want to reach the most reachable audience, and I want to tell them the truth," says Milligan. He stresses the impact of things children read as children. "Somebody asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of Kit Carson. I asked myself, 'Where does my knowledge of Carson come from?' It was coming from something I'd read in fourth grade."

Milligan wrote Battle of the Alamo and Comanche Captive for students who have a grasp of seventh grade Texas history. However, at a recent school visit, he discovered that even second and third graders were struggling through the books. "I'm sure if you read Comanche Captive in the third grade, it would affect how you looked at Indians from then on," he says.

Milligan chose the "you are there" format, in which readers make choices that affect the story's outcome, because it seemed appropriate for the stories he was telling. For example, he found that there was such a great deal of historical material available for the years 1835 to 1836 that "you can actually track people from day to day, considering the choices they actually made on a certain day in a certain place." To help him remember each character's whereabouts, he adds, "I had a flowchart about the size of a door."

Milligan's first novel, With the Wind, Kevin Dolan, also deals with regional history. Aimed at a young audience, the story follows an immigrant family from Ireland to the Texas frontier in the 1830s. "In Kevin Dolan, the characters become aware that they have fled oppression only to become the oppressors," says Milligan. The most difficult part of writing historical fiction, according to Milligan, is being careful not to think like a modern person. For example, in the 1830s, almost no settlers took the Indians' point of view into account."