Follow the Drinking Gourd

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Illus. in full color. "Winter's story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad. While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper). A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song's directions. Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors. The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that's compelling. A fine ...
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Overview

Illus. in full color. "Winter's story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad. While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper). A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song's directions. Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors. The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that's compelling. A fine rendering of history in picturebook format."—(starred) Booklist.

By following the directions in a song, "The Drinking Gourd," taught them by an old sailor named Peg Leg Joe, runaway slaves journey north along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Before the Civil War, Peg Leg Joe traveled from one plantation to another, trying to help the slaves. He hired himself out as a farm hand, then taught the slaves a song to help them find the Underground Railroad heading north, by following the ``drinking gourd'' of the Big Dipper. On trees or rocks, he scratched his signa foot and peg markto point the way. A story unfolds about five slaves who made it to Canada using the stars, Peg Leg's sign and the help of Quakers and farmers along the way. Told in a few, poetic words (and the lines of the song), the text is set off with highly dramatic illustrations, with the flat perspectives that are characteristic of primitive art. Yet the expressiveness of the figures perfectly conveys the fear, dread and hope that inspired people to make the run for freedom. With a clarity of language suitable for preschoolers, the book will also be of value to older children. Ages 5-9. (Nov . )
Children's Literature - Elizabeth Fronk
This story begins in a difficult period of United States history—some time before the Civil War. The story tells about an old sailor, "Peg Leg Joe," who wants to help free the slaves. By day Joe works for the plantation owner but at night Joe teaches the slaves a song to help find freedom. The song's words say "Just follow the drinking gourd" and contain other "hidden" directions for slaves to follow. Molly and James, a slave family, risk separation unless they escape. Words in Joe's song help them follow the trail as they struggle to find food and risk being sent back to slavery. As the song says, the old man, Joe, is waiting at the Ohio River to take them to freedom. Molly, James, and their family find freedom in Canada. The illustrations in this picture book work very well with the song's simplicity. Also, the use of white space makes a rather frightening set of events more accessible to younger children. The only missing thing is audio for the song found at the very end of the book. Elementary school students could use this story as an entry for a discussion about slavery and the Underground Railroad. Reviewer: Elizabeth Fronk
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Winter presents what seems like a simple folk song sung by slaves and reveals that it was actually a set of directions to help slaves follow the Underground Railroad to freedom. A one-legged sailor named Peg Leg Joe, a conductor on the Railroad, taught slaves the song, and it may have been one that Harriet Tubman learned. The illustrations of the escaping family are deceptively simple, but they accurately portray the danger and difficulties facing those who ventured on the Underground Railroad.
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2-- Winter's picture book relates the story of an old white sailor called ``Peg Leg Joe'' who went from plantation to plantation in the pre-Civil War south, teaching enslaved blacks a folksong that he wrote, the lyrics of which held directions for following the Underground Railroad to freedom. This particular story focuses on the journey of one group of runaways who travel according to the directions of the song to reach the Ohio River, where Peg Leg Joe himself is waiting with a boat. Dramatic full-color paintings and a simple text make this part of U.S. history accessible to young readers. However, its emphasis on the role that white people played in the black flight to freedom make it an unbalanced introduction. ``Joe had a plan'' appears repeatedly in the text, making it sound as though the idea of escape and freedom originated with him, rather than with the people who were living the horror of slavery. Throughout the story, the people who are escaping are depicted as being wholly dependent on the elements and on the actions of benevolent whites, rather than on their own thoughts, ideas, and decisions. This notion is reinforced in picture after picture, as the faces of the five blacks are wide-eyed with fear while they look for the next sign from Joe to tell them what to do. They never show the expressions of courage and determination that mark the faces of the white characters in this book. Follow the Drinking Gourd is aptly titled in that it presents a history of black Americans as followers, rather than as leaders. --Kathleen T. Horning, Madison Public Library, Wis.
From the Publisher
“A fine rendering of history in picture book format.”–Booklist, Starred

“An extraordinary and inspiring tribute to a unique part of African-American history.”–Boston Globe

“The artist’s hauntingly muted pictures propel the story forward and make it memorable.”–Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606015424
  • Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1992
  • Format: Library Binding

Meet the Author

Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated almost 50 books for children, including Diego, Emily Dickinson’s Letters to the World, The Librarian of Basra, Georgia, and Mama. Her art with flat colors and perspectives in the folk art tradition have brought her many honors. She lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2000

    Cultural for children in the south

    A third grader read this book to me last fall. I was so impressed that I have recommended it as a teaching aid for 'Black History Month'. I am also purchasing this book for any children visiting our home to read.

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