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Free Study Guide for Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt-Book Summary

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Main Characters

Jethro Creighton

Nine-year-old Jethro is a boy, his mother’s helper, for the first April of the novel. The start of the war is the start of his accelerated transition from boy to man. He is the only son who does not go off to war and is left to completely take over the responsibilities of the farm and the family, especially after his father experiences a heart attack. He follows the political and strategic aspects of the war through newspaper stories, conversations, and letters from his brothers and cousin who are fighting. These same letters also involve Jethro in the emotional aspects of the war as he reads of the horrors and tries to shield his family from the devastation. The death of President Lincoln, Jethro’s hero, all but undoes the boy, until the return of his friend and teacher, Shadrach Yale, and his dear sister, Jenny, bring back hope that the future holds promise. By the end of the book, Jethro has lost his innocence, but gained the experience and understanding of manhood.

Jenny Creighton

Jenny is Jethro’s fourteen-year-old sister and his only sibling at home. The two are constant companions and grow to know each other’s feelings as they work the farm side by side and talk about the war. They both are anxious for the safe return of Jenny’s love and Jethro’s friend and teacher, Shadrach Yale. Jenny is resolute and mature beyond her years, which is not unusual for a young woman of the times, but becomes even more so as she deals with the war and eventually marries Shad. It is the sight of her, returned from Washington D.C., that lifts the gloom from the April of Lincoln’s death for Jethro.

Shadrach Yale

As Jethro’s teacher and close friend, Shad encourages Jethro’s reading and speaking, and his understanding of the war. He and Jethro spend an introspective night as “two bachelors” prior to Shadrach leaving for the war. His attitude, sadness at leaving, and uncertainty of return, contrast the confident eagerness of Jethro’s brother, Tom and cousin, Eb. Jethro and Jenny miss him terribly, but the insight he imparted helps them understand and cope with “the whims of fate”. Shadrach is seriously wounded and Jenny nurses him back to health. The two get married and when they return to the farm they offer to have Jethro live with them to continue his studies.

Ross Milton

Like Shadrach Yale, Ross Milton sees great potential in Jethro. Milton picks up where Shad left off in the education and mentoring of the boy. He first meets Jethro in Newton where Milton defends the Creighton family on Jethro’s behalf. From that point on he is a constant source of support and comfort to the Creightons and a source of knowledge and perspective for Jethro. He even goes so far as to accompany Jenny to Washington D.C. to be at Shadrach’s side. When he returns he shares with Jethro the difficult concept that peace will not be a “perfect pearl”, but also shares his confidence and hope that Lincoln will have the power to assure that “peace will not be a mockery.”


The plot is at once a chronological history of the Civil War and a narrative about coming of age during a time of war. Historic events are used as topics of conversation, a basis for letters from soldiers, or as a background for the feelings and actions of the characters. Certain characters, notably Cousin Wilse Graham, are merely names, who function as a voice to impart to the reader the historical foundation for the next events or the next conversation. It is in keeping with Hunt’s focus on teaching history through literature that the events of the war drive the plot. The reader experiences everything from the firing on Fort Sumter to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln through the eyes of a small rural community.

As the novel progresses, each chapter portrays a perceptible step in Jethro’s development, using dialog, responses to emotional situations, and concern with the war to indicate the progress of Jethro’s growth into a man. In Chapter 1, the adults are concerned with the war while Jethro’s attention is focused on springtime and good food. Chapter 2 has the adults arguing and taking sides, with Jethro becoming upset and wanting to cry upon hearing the seriousness of war. By Chapter 3, Jethro has matured intellectually and is fascinated and well informed about the war. At the same time, however, he still cries at the prospect of losing his brother. This chapter marks the beginning of his transformation from boy to man. Chapter 4 gives Jethro even more adult characteristics as he spends the night as a bachelor with Shadrach Yale. Finally, the last traces of boyhood are pushed aside when in Chapter 5 Jethro rides solo into town, takes on a man’s financial responsibilities and copes with mansized ridicule from the men who see the Creightons as “Copperheads”.

Each subsequent chapter uses the events of history to add more responsibility and emotional pressure to Jethro’s maturation. He takes over the physical labor of the farm after his father’s heart attack. He and Jenny discuss the war, but shield their parents from the painful details. He copes with his brother’s death, then his dear sister leaving. His letter to Jenny in Chapter 10, written and spelled correctly, shows not only his intellectual success, but the maturity of his attitudes and feelings as well. Ultimately, it is the death of the President (whose stability and constant presence throughout the ups and downs of both the war and Jethro’s life has sustained the boy) that comes close to causing Jethro’s demise. Just in time Shadrach and Jenny come home giving Jethro, indelibly marked by the war, hope for the future.

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Cassie, Donna L.. "TheBestNotes on Across Five Aprils". . 09 May 2017