A Voice for Kanzas

A Voice for Kanzas

by Debra McArthur

Kansas Territory in 1855 is a difficult place to settle, particularly for a 13-year-old poet like Lucy Thomkins. Between the proslavery Border Ruffians and Insiders like her father who are determined to make Kansas a free state, it's hard to be heard, no matter your age.


Kansas Territory in 1855 is a difficult place to settle, particularly for a 13-year-old poet like Lucy Thomkins. Between the proslavery Border Ruffians and Insiders like her father who are determined to make Kansas a free state, it's hard to be heard, no matter your age.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Judy DaPolito
This novel clearly illustrates the contrasts of 1855 America as thirteen-year-old Lucy Thompkins and her abolitionist family move from the luxury of her father's parents' home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the raw frontier of Lawrence, in the Kansas Territory. Lucy is very unhappy about the move. She wants to continue going to school at the private academy where her favorite teacher encourages her poetry. And she will miss her first cotillion because the train leaves the week before it's to be held. Once Lucy reaches Lawrence, she's horrified at the living conditions. There are only fifty buildings in the town, the late March weather is cold and windy, she and her family are sleeping on the floor of the boarding house, and the trunk containing her clothes and books was stolen on the train. Slowly, the material conditions change: her father builds the general store, and the family moves into the upper story; school begins and a classmate's mother makes Lucy a new dress; she has a room of her own and a desk for writing her poetry. But the election that's to determine whether Kansas will be slave or free brings enormous dangers with it. Armed Missouri settlers, known as the Border Ruffians, prevent the abolitionists from voting, and Lucy's father becomes deeply involved in the effort to write a new constitution. Because of her schoolmate, whose family helps runaway slaves escape through the Liberty Line, Lucy comes to understand the horrors of slavery and does her part to help one young woman escape to Canada. The historical background of the book is thoroughly researched and the time period comes alive throughout.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5�9—Using prose, poetry, and primary sources from the period, McArthur takes readers to the Kansas territory on the eve of the Civil War. Lucy Catherine Thomkins, 13, and her family leave Pennsylvania to join the cause for Kansas becoming a free state. Once they get there, her parents realize that their ideas are a bit romantic. The Ruffians, those in favor of slavery, threaten the Thomkins more than once. McArthur aptly and distinctly portrays the racism felt by African Americans and the local Native Americans. Lucy befriends Levi, a Native American teen, while her brother, Joseph, influenced by a prejudiced friend, is rude to him. Her friendship with Annie leads to her involvement in the Liberty Line, a part of the Underground Railroad. The action in the novel centers on Lucy's assignments and the efforts of those wanting a free Kansas. Lucy and Joseph, the novel's best-rounded characters, shine when they transport a runaway slave to another station on the line. Readers see Lucy's growth through her poems and actions, and Joseph's maturing is reflected in his relationships with his father and Levi. The secondary characters, particularly Levi, are not as well limned. The font used for Lucy's poems makes the words hard to distinguish at times, which detracts from their flow. Even with these criticisms, McArthur's novel will appeal those who crave historical fiction or an action-packed story.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
Kirkus Reviews - Kirkus Reviews
It's 1855, and 13-year-old budding poet Lucy has no desire to leave the safety of Pennsylvania, her school and her coming cotillion to head out to the dangerous town of Lawrence, Kan. But her father is determined to travel to the lawless new territory to help fight to have it admitted to the Union as a free state and, at the same time, to finally find success running a store. The learning curve is steep for Lucy. After all her belongings are lost on the journey, she's forced to wear only her lovely cotillion gown, totally inappropriate for the rough-and-tumble frontier. School is nothing like her genteel education back east, but there she meets classmate Annie, who lives outside of town and whose family secretly helps move slaves north to safety. After Lucy begins to help, inspired by ideals she finds in poetry, suspense rises palpably. Chapters begin with excerpts from period documents, mostly newspapers, ably setting the tone. While some characters seem included merely to demonstrate diversity--especially heroic Native American boy Levi--and a related subplot in which Lucy's younger brother falling under another boy's bad influence feels superfluous, the historical accuracy and gritty hazards of tumultuous Kansas keep the tale on track. Authenticity supported by her previous juvenile nonfiction works, McArthur has created a believable and fast-paced tale of life in the Kansas Territory. (Historical fiction. 10-15)

Product Details

Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Publication date:
Fiction Series
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)
640L (what's this?)
Age Range:
11 - 14 Years

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