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Image by Roland Lösslein


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An orphaned teen in the notorious Five Points district of lower Manhattan in 1854, Pencil’s cursed to scavenge the unforgiving streets where trust is a stranger. Even as slavery has divided the nation, the good Pencil comes across is as rare as a precious gem buried in the manure-strewn streets of Gotham. The shady adults who surround him believe he’s a “hobbhadehoy,” a youth who hasn’t quite reached manhood. Despite years of neglect, he hasn’t lost his empathy for others and a fledgling sense of justice. As the lieutenant of a pack of street rats, he craves greater control of his life. His luck finally runs out when through someone’s treachery, he faces significant prison time.

Pencil’s grasps another opportunity when he’s shipped off to Ohio on one of the first “orphan trains.” Life on the farm proves to be a different challenge under the demanding, and occasionally drunken, thumb of his new guardian. Ultimately, he’s forced  to flee, a much stronger physical specimen than when he arrived.

Pencil ends up in Cleveland, where a daguerreotypist takes him under her wing. She teaches him about capturing images on glass and copper while trying to impress upon him the importance of trust. Encounters with corpses, kidnappers, and grave robbers test his acceptance of the idea … and justice.


About the Author

Born into an immigrant family seeking new opportunity in America after World War II, Max Willi Fischer was raised in a village named after an exotic North African seaport—Mogadore, Ohio. With such a background, little wonder Max grew up with an inborn curiosity about history.

Four decades as a classroom teacher made Max realize that history should be a vibrant, well-told story.  His goal in writing is to engage adolescents (and adults) with an exciting, yet accurate, view into our nation’s past. He enjoys the discovery of research to ensure that, while his characters are for the most part fictitious, his settings are based in the reality of the era on which he writes.

Retired, Max lives with his wife and trusted four-legged friends Kole, Bunnie, Lucy, and Izzy.

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