For Liberty: The Story of The Boston Massacre (copyright 2009)

For Liberty: The Story of The Boston Massacre is the only picture book, and quite possibly the only existent book, which clearly defines the essence of the American political consciousness.


A gripping account of the Boston Massacre, illustrated in a graphic-fiction style. By March 5, 1770, it was dangerous to be a soldier in Boston. Colonial businessmen opposed the taxes imposed by Great Britain. The Sons of Liberty ruled the city through boycotts and riots. British troops were sent to protect lives and property. On that late winter day, a British private found himself harassed by street toughs. Then up from the docks came sailors and ruffians armed with clubs and cutlasses. Soldiers from the British 29th Regiment of Foot came to disperse the mob. Threats made, stones thrown, then … gunfire. In spare, gripping language, author-illustrator Timothy Decker describes the tense, violent confrontation between Boston’s angry colonists and soldiers, as well as the legal aftermath that underscored the rule of law and the birth of American civil liberties.

2009 Cybil Nominated title for Non Fiction (MG/YA)


School Library Journal:

Grade 5–8—The Boston Massacre is given a dramatic illustrated treatment here. Background about the political situation in England, especially its battles with France and need for capital from the American colonies, sets the stage. British soldiers are introduced individually almost as players in a theatrical production while tensions in Boston build to the climactic confrontation between the soldiers guarding the Custom House and the townspeople. Although Crispus Attucks is not mentioned by name, a man who appears to be African American is shown as a shooting victim. The black-and-white, pen-and-ink, cross-hatched art is done in a graphic-novel style but without panels or speech bubbles… John Adams defends the British soldiers at their trial, then contemplates “a troubled future.” Still, the book would be an intriguing addition to classroom discussion about the causes of the rebellion and how ordinary people became caught up in the conflict.


This handsomely designed picture book begins the story of the Boston Massacre by filling in the background: Britain taxing its North American colonies; Bostonians showing their displeasure through boycotts and riots. Then the text turns to the night of March 5, 1770, when an unruly mob threatened a small group of British soldiers, who, in the end, fired on the colonists. The book concludes with the soldiers’ trial and their lawyer, John Adams, reflecting on the protection of liberty. There is no back matter and some elements of fact are conveyed only through the illustrations (readers can infer that five soldiers died because five coffins are pictured), but the book does quite a good job of conveying how the actions and emotions of those on both sides escalated toward violence and death. Using parallel lines, crosshatching, and other texturing effects, the black-and-white drawings hold attention, particularly in the larger, more dramatic scenes. A fine, balanced look at an important event.

Kirkus Reviews:

“By March 5, 1770, it was dangerous to be a soldier in Boston.” In a few lines of terse prose illustrated with densely hatched black-and-white pictures, Decker lays out the causes of the tension between Bostonians and British troops, and then delivers a blow-by-blow account of events on that March night and the ensuing trials. Along with casting a grim tone over all, his dark, crowded illustrations capture the incident’s confusion and also add details to the narrative.

Library Media Connection:

During the 1770s, it was not popular to be a soldier living in Boston. A group called the Sons of Liberty was angry about the taxes imposed on them. Decker tells the story of one particular soldier named Private White, who is harassed by angry locals. This harassment leads to a riot in the streets known as the Boston Massacre. Younger students will gain an understanding of the Boston Massacre by reading this illustrated book. Decker uses strong vocabulary to bring this historical event to life. The graphic style illustrations are b&w and have a grainy texture. Many of the characters in the pictures lack emotion except when there is a rise in the action. These changes in expression add to the seriousness of the event. This book could be used as a read-aloud for younger students learning about the Boston Massacre or for research done by upper elementary or middle school students. Readers will gain a true sense of the violence of this time period. Teachers may use the book to set the stage for an upcoming unit on the Revolutionary War.

Timothy Decker always brings a level of serious contemplation to his titles and it is no different with For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre. Most adults will be familiar with the Paul Revere engraving showing British soldiers standing in a row simultaneously opening fire on a crowd. History has proven this was a brilliant piece of propaganda but not at all close to the confusing truth. Decker wisely addresses the actions of both sides here, showing the fury of the crowd who took their collective frustration out on a few soldiers who were wholly unprepared to deal with their concerns about unfair taxation. The rising tension on the street corner, the attempts by British Captain Preston to remain in control of his men and the situation are all depicted beautifully by Decker’s sparse narrative and black and white drawings. Even for readers who know how the confrontation ends, Preston’s words provide new insight and the emotion of the moment: “Surely the mob would not assault a trained soldier… Surely his men would not fire for fear of shooting their officer… Certainly a show of force would dissolve the anger.” But it didn’t work the way Preston hoped and all too quickly there were bodies on the snow and the soldiers were on their way to trial.

In most stories about the Boston Massacre, the reportage stops with the gunshots. But Decker goes beyond that moment to the trials themselves, where Captain Preston was found not guilty and the soldiers were determined to have rightfully defended their lives. John Adams was chosen to defend them and he performed his assigned duty quite well. It is Adams who closes the book, and his fears and hopes for his not yet born country which will linger long after the last word is read. “He understood that no nation held dominion over liberty, the protection of one person from the actions of another. He knew that liberty was precious and required wise, vigilant, and reasonable citizens to protect it, even, at times, from the ignorance of one’s own countrymen.” Decker channels Adams’ wisdom beautifully here; he makes him and the cautious Captain Preston the heart and soul of a tragedy that far too many other authors have allowed to be only a caricature. Every time I read Timothy Decker I am reminded of how casually many authors approach historic subjects for children. Decker however respects his audience as much as his subject and thus is one of the best in this genre. Parents should count themselves lucky to find his books on the shelves.