Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator
Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom
Opening/Synopsis: “Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them. All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.” Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her. He had carved a sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run. Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold. The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night. They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan. In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community. Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school. But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves. One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside. Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.” What will her family do? Readers will be surprised by the ending.
Why I like this book: Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad. In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity. In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January. Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity. Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor. She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations. Visit Patricia Polacco on her website. You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.
Resources: Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal. You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.