January's Sparrow

( 1 )


Patricia Polacco's most powerful book since Pink and Say.

In the middle of the night, The Crosswhites-including young Sadie-must flee the Kentucky plantation they work on. Dear January has been beaten and killed by the plantation master, and they fear who may be next. But Sadie must leave behind her most valuable possession, the wooden sparrow carved for her by January. Through the Underground Railroad, the Crosswhites make the slow and arduous journey to Marshall, Michigan, ...

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Patricia Polacco's most powerful book since Pink and Say.

In the middle of the night, The Crosswhites-including young Sadie-must flee the Kentucky plantation they work on. Dear January has been beaten and killed by the plantation master, and they fear who may be next. But Sadie must leave behind her most valuable possession, the wooden sparrow carved for her by January. Through the Underground Railroad, the Crosswhites make the slow and arduous journey to Marshall, Michigan, where they finally live in freedom. And there they stay, happily, until the day a mysterious package shows up on their doorsteps. It is January's sparrow, with a note that reads, 'I found you.'

How the Crosswhites, and the whole town of Marshall, face this threat will leave readers empowered and enthralled. This is a Polacco adventure that will live in the minds of children for years.

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Editorial Reviews

Moira E. McLaughlin
…a moving story about a strong, loving slave family that survives against the odds.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Based on actual events, Polacco’s (In Our Mothers’ House) story is at once horrifying and heartening. It centers on the Crosswhite family, slaves who flee their Kentucky plantation after witnessing the merciless whipping of January, a slave caught while attempting escape. Led to believe that January died from his wounds, Sadie Crosswhite is heartbroken when she inadvertently leaves behind the wooden sparrow he carved for her. Writing in credible dialect, Polacco conveys the family’s fear and fortitude as they follow the North Star, “trackin’ through cornfields, climbin’ up bluffs, rollin’ through muck and mud.” They take refuge in Marshall, Mich., a sanctuary on the Underground Railroad, where they remain until slave chasers track them down. After a confrontation in which the town rallies behind them, the Crosswhites steal away for Canada, accompanied by January, who has shown up unexpectedly. Like Polacco’s prose, her dynamic and sometimes brutal pictures, rendered in pencils and markers, hold nothing back—be it the Crosswhites’ anguish and terror while under pursuit or their affection for each other and those who harbor them. An illuminating and trenchant account. Ages 8–up. (Oct.)
Horn Book
Polacco at her best...undeniably vivid.
Children's Literature - Jacquie Skurla
Young Sadie Crosswhite watches as her dear friend January is savagely whipped, beaten, stomped, and left for dead after attempting to escape from Master Giltner, his cruel plantation owner. The year is 1846, and Sadie's family must flee that very night for fear that the Master may sell family members in retribution. This powerful telling of a slave family's journey through the Underground Railroad to the safety of the free states is masterfully brought to life through the marriage of a lengthy text supported by double-paged pencil, colored pencil, and watercolor illustrations. For the first time in her young life, Sadie and her three brothers find a sense of normalcy in Marshall, Michigan. Under the necessity of assumed names, they are able to be "free men" and attend school. When the Master's henchmen finally locate them to drag them back to Kentucky a year later, the townspeople of Marshall show their mettle and sense of justice, standing against the prevailing law of the land, tyranny, and elected officials to do what is right. Patricia Polacco, who is at her best when delving into injustices done by people past and present as in her books The Butterfly and Pink and Say, again triumphs in this tale of pre-Civil War horrors and triumphs. A meaningful addition to school libraries when teaching American History. Reviewer: Jacquie Skurla
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Fleshing out historical events with invented but credible details, Polacco retraces the 1840s flight of the Crosswhite family from slavery to freedom and the dramatic standoff between the residents (black and white both) of the Michigan town where they settled and a band of "paddy rollers" sent to fetch the fugitives back to Kentucky. In lightly idiomatic language ("'Hark now,' their daddy whispered. 'We is gonna cross water tonight!'"), the author relates most of the tale from the point of view of Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, and threads the narrative with a typical depiction of strong family bonds—expanded here to include the loyalty displayed by a crowd of townfolk who not only held off the paddy rollers until the Crosswhites could escape to Canada, but later paid hefty fines for defying fugitive slave laws. The illustrations, which include scenes of a bloody whipping and a heavily scarred back, have an urgent, unsettled look that fully captures the sharply felt danger and terror of Sadie's experiences. Particularly telling is the contrast between the open, mobile, well-lit faces of the Crosswhites and the shadowed, menacing miens of their pursuers. An iffy claim near the end that Lincoln "gave all slaves their freedom" aside, this moving account effectively highlights a significant instance of nonviolent community resistance to injustice.—John Peters, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
A voice in the prologue, in the dialect cadences of the slave narratives, introduces the stark opening image of a black man, roped and bloodied, dragged by two white men on horseback-the paddy rollers. Eight-year-old Sadie Crosswhite is forced to watch with her parents and siblings as their beloved friend, January Drumm, is whipped and carried off for burial, the price for trying to run away. Sadie and her family run away that night, stopping in Marshall, Mich., with its free black community. They tell no one that they are runaways, as harboring them is against the law. The slave catchers track the Crosswhites down some four years later, in 1847, and in a blazing scene the townspeople of Marshall, black and white, defy them, even as January himself appears, baring his horribly scarred back. Polacco's passionately realized images use every tool in the artist's arsenal: pictures structured like Expressionist etchings or Mannerist saints; echoes of Delacroix and Ryder, Rembrandt and Goya. Rooted in history (a comprehensive bibliography is promised online), this is a masterly narrative that horrifies, moves and informs. (Illustrated fiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399250774
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/29/2009
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 174,607
  • Age range: 8 years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.24 (w) x 11.26 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco lives in Union City, Michigan.

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