Sunday, April 17, 2011

Night Boat to Freedom by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Lexile     920          Pages     36          Ages      8 - 12
AR Quiz No. 110259 EN Fiction
  IL: LG - BL: 4.1 - AR Pts: 0.5
  AR Quiz Types: RP

This is a fictional story about the Underground Railroad, inspired by true accounts of actual slaves compiled into the Slave Narrative Collection by out-of-work writers hired by the U.S. Government during the Great Depression.  In reality, the two characters, Christmas John and Granny Judith, never knew one another but the author has woven their histories together into an amazing tale of slavery, dignity, courage and every person's right to freedom.

Christmas John is only twelve years old, living in a pineboard cabin with his Granny Judith, both of them slaves on a Kentucky plantation. One night Granny Judith tells Christmas John about a boat hidden on the nearby river - a boat that she wants him to row across the river with the cook's daughter Molly, to the Underground Railroad station on the Ohio side of the river. Being only twelve, she explains, he is big enough to row the boat, but young enough to escape notice. Christmas John is afraid, but faces that fear and does as his Granny asks. When he returns, Granny Judith asks what color Molly was wearing and John tells her "blue," and Granny tells him that on that night the color of freedom is blue. She takes a piece of blue cloth and starts a quilt that over time, with each trip across the river, collects all the colors of the rainbow.  Finally it becomes too dangerous to continue and Granny Judith tells Christmas John he must row himself across and not return. He doesn't want to leave her but she insists and he goes. Before he reaches the river, he decides he can't leave without his Granny and runs back and convinces her to come with him. In a close race with slave hunters with guns and dogs, they make it to the Ohio side of the river and freedom!

E. B. Lewis' illustrations are so realistic you can feel the suspense of the story and almost smell the fear of the slaves in their desperate dash for freedom, and at the end of the book, the unmitigated joy on Granny Judith's face will bring tears to your eyes.

This is a wonderful story to read to your children and use as a starting-point to discuss the issues of slavery, segregation, equality and freedom. I would recommend it to anyone, young and old alike.

Happy Reading!
Miss Laurie

Check out a copy of Night Boat to Freedom at the Lake County Public Library or click here to reserve a copy for pickup at your favorite branch.

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