Trouble Don't Last

Trouble Don't Last

by Shelley Pearsall


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440418115
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 12/09/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 186,040
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.63(h) x 0.59(d)
Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

A former middle school teacher and historian, Shelley Pearsall is now working on her next historical novel and leading writing workshops for children.

Trouble Don’t Last is her first novel.

Pearsall did extensive research while writing Trouble Don’t Last and traveled to towns along the escape route–including crossing the Ohio River in a boat and visiting a community in Chatham, Ontario, another destination for runaway slaves. “I’ve found that learning about history in an imaginative way often sticks with students longer than review questions in a text-book,” says Pearsall.


The Underground Railroad is a familiar American story. It is filled with dramatic tales of secret rooms, brave abolitionists, and midnight journeys. But sometimes the real heroes of the story–the runaways themselves–are left in the background. What did they think and feel as they tried to reach freedom? What was their journey like? Whom did the runaways trust and whom did they fear? This book grew from my wondering about these questions. . . .

In my research, I learned that the Underground Railroad was not a clear, organized network that led runaways from the South to the North. Actually, the term referred to any safe routes or hiding places used by runaways–so there were hundreds, even thousands of "underground railroads."

Most runaways traveled just the way that Samuel and Harrison did–using whatever temporary hiding places or means of transportation they could find. As the number of actual railroad lines increased throughout the country in the 1850's, some runaways even hid on railroad cars when travelling from one place to another. They called this "riding the steam cars" or "going the faster way."

I also discovered that runaways were not as helpless or ill-prepared as they are sometimes portrayed. Historical records indicate that many slaves planned carefully for their journey. They brought provisions such as food and extra clothing with them. Since transportation and guides could cost money, some slaves saved money for their escape, while others, like Samuel and Harrison, received money from individuals they met during their journey.

White abolitionists and sympathetic religious groups like the Quakers aided many runaways on the Underground Railroad. However, free African Americans played an equally important role. They kept runaways in their homes and settlements, and served as guides, wagon drivers, and even decoys.

In fact, the character of the river man is based on the real-life story of a black Underground Railroad guide named John P. Parker. Like the River Man, John Parker was badly beaten as a young slave, and so he never traveled anywhere without a pistol in his pocket and a knife in his belt. During a fifteen year period, he ferried more than 400 runaways across the Ohio River, and a $ 1000 reward was once offered for his capture. After the Civil War, he became a successful businessman in Ripley, Ohio, and patent several inventions.

I am often asked what other parts of the novel are factual. The gray yarn being sent as a sign? The baby buried below the church floor? Lung fever? Guides named Ham and Eggs?

The answer is yes. Most of the events and names used in this novel are real, but they come from many different sources. I discovered names like Ordee Lee and Ham and Eggs in old letters and records of the Underground Railroad. The character of Hetty Scott is based on a description I found in John Parker's autobiography. The heart-wrenching tale of Ordee Lee saving the locks of hair from his family comes from a slave's actual account. However, I adapted all of this material to fit into the story of Samuel and Harrison–so time periods and locations have often been changed.

One of the most memorable aspects of writing this book was taking a trip to northern Kentucky and southern Ohio in late summer. To be able to describe the Cornfield Bottoms and the Ohio River, I walked down to the river late at night to see what it looked like and how it sounded in the darkness. To be able to write about Samuel's mother, I stood on a street corner in Old Washington, Kentucky, where slaves were once auctioned. I even stayed in houses that had been in existence during the years of the Underground Railroad.

I chose the southern Ohio and northern Kentucky region for my setting since it had been a very active area for the Underground Railroad. I selected the year 1859 because Congress passed a national law called the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which affected everyone involved in the Underground Railroad. Severe penalties such as heavy fines and jail time awaited anyone–white or black–who helped or harbored runaway slaves anywhere in the United States after 1850.

The law also required people to return runaway slaves to their owners, even if the runaways were living in free states like Ohio. African-Americans like August and Belle, who had papers to prove their freedom, were safe from capture even though their lives were sometimes restricted by local and state "black laws." However, runaway slaves were only safe if they left the country and went to places like Canada or Mexico. That is why Samuel and Harrison had to journey all the way to Canada to be free in 1859.

So, if you visited Canada today, would you still find a peaceful place called Harrison's Pond? And is there a tumbledown farmhouse somewhere in Kentucky with an old burying-ground for slaves nearby?

Harrison's Pond and Blue Ash, Kentucky, are places in my imagination, but there are many other places to visit with solemn footsteps and remember. I hope that you will.
–Shelley Pearsall

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt


Truth is, trouble follows me like a shadow.

To begin with, I was born a slave when other folks is born white. My momma was a slave and her momma a slave before that, so you can see we are nothing but a family of trouble. Master sold Momma before I was even old enough to remember her, and two old slaves named Harrison and Lilly had to raise me up like I was one of their own, even though I wasn't. Then, when I was in my eleventh year, the old slave Harrison decided to jump into trouble himself, and he tried to run away.

Problem was, I had to go with him.


It all started on a just-so day in the month of September 1859, when I broke my master's plate while clearing the supper table. I tried to tell Lilly that if Master Hackler hadn't taken a piece of bread and sopped pork fat all over his old plate, I wouldn't have dropped it.

But Lilly kept her lips pressed tight together, saying nothing as she scraped the vegetable scraps into the hog pails.

"And Young Mas Seth was sticking his foot this-away and that-away, tryin to trip me up," I added.

Lilly didn't even look at me, just kept scraping and scraping with her big, brown hands.

"Maybe it was a spirit--could be Old Mas Hackler's dead spirit--that got ahold of me right then and made that plate fly right outta my hands."

Lilly looked up and snorted, "Spirits. If Old Mas Hackler wanted to haunt this house, he'd go an' turn a whole table on its end, not bother with one little china plate in your hands." She pointed her scraping knife at me. "You gotta be more careful, Samuel, or they gonna sell you off sure as anything, and I can't do nothin to help you then. You understand me, child?"

"Yes'm," I answered, looking down at my feet. Every time Lilly said something like this to me, which was more often than not, it always brought up the same picture in my head. A picture of my momma. She had been sold when I was hardly even standing on my own two legs. Right after the Old Master Hackler had died. Lilly said that selling off my momma paid for his fancy carved headstone and oak burying box, but I'm not sure all that is true.

In my mind, I could see my momma being taken away in the back of Master's wagon, just the way Lilly told me. Her name was Hannah, and she was a tall, straight-backed woman with gingerbread skin like mine. Lilly said that she was wearing a blue-striped headwrap tied around her hair, and she was leaning over with her head down in her hands when they rode off. The only thing Lilly knew was that they took her to the courthouse in Washington, Kentucky, to sell her.

After my momma had gone, it had fallen on Lilly's shoulders to raise me as if I was her own boy, even though she wasn't any relation of mine and she'd already had two sons and four daughters, all sold off or dead. But she said I had more trouble in me than all six of her children rolled up together. "I gotta be on your heels day and night," she was always telling me. "And even that don't keep the bad things from happening."

When she was finished with the hog pails, Lilly came over to me. "How's that chin doin?" She lifted the cold rag I'd been holding and looked underneath. "Miz Catherine got good aim, I give her that."

After I had broken the china plate, Master Hackler's loud, redheaded wife, Miz Catherine, had flung her table fork at me. "You aren't worth the price of a broken plate, you know that?" she hollered, and sent one of the silver forks flying. Good thing I had sense enough not to duck my head down, so it hit right where she was aiming, square on my chin. Even though it stung all the way up to my ear, I didn't make a face. I was half-proud of myself for that.

"You pick up every little piece," Miz Catherine had snapped, pointing at the floor. "Every single piece with those worthless, black fingers of yours, and I'll decide what to do about your carelessness."

After that, Lilly had come barreling in to save me. She had helped me sweep up the white shards that had flown all over, and she told Miz Catherine that she would pay for the plate. Master usually gave Lilly a dollar to keep every Christmas. "What you think that plate cost?" Lilly asked Miz Catherine as she swept.

"How much do you have?" Miz Catherine sniffed.

"Maybe $4 saved up."

"Then I imagine it will cost you $4."

So the redheaded devil Miz Catherine had taken most of Lilly's savings just for my broken plate--although, truth was, Lilly really had $6 tucked away. And she had given me a banged-up chin. But, as Lilly always said, it could have been worse.

Then we heard Master Hackler's heavy footsteps coming down the hall. He walks hard on his heels, so you can always tell him from the others.

"You be quiet as a country graveyard," Lilly warned. "And gimme that cloth." Quick as anything, she snatched the cloth from my chin and began wiping a plate with it.

"Still cleaning up from supper?" Master Hackler said, peering around the doorway. "Samuel's made you mighty slow this evening, Lilly."

"Yes, he sho' has." Lilly kept her head down and wiped the plates in fast circles. "But I always git everything done, you know. Don't sleep a wink till everything gits done."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Trouble Don't Last 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What if you were a slave on the most important journey of your life- running away? Samuel is on that journey with Harrison, another slave he works with. With all the obstacles they have to face, will they reach freedom alive? Samuel is an eleven-year-old black slave who is raised by Lily and Harrison. They raise him because Samuel’s parents aren’t living with him. Harrison is an older man who sticks to his work because he knows that is the right thing to do. Lily is a very caring person that really helps in raising Samuel. As I read, the characters started to become my friends. The author really makes them realistic through their emotions and dialogue. The pages of the book practically turned themselves. From the moment when Harrison woke Samuel up and through every last part of their adventure, I couldn’t put the book down. I’d recommend it to boys and girls who like adventure and historical fiction. I feel everyone should read Trouble Don’t Last because it takes you on the adventure with the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book and it is awsome! It has exiting twist and a shocking ending. Thats why I like it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend Trouble Don¿t Last. Inspired by the story of the Underground Railroad and her subsequent extensive research, author Shelly Pearsall (Random House 2003) provides a veritable cornucopia of vignettes depicting the lives of two runaway slaves, Samuel and Harrison, before the Civil War. After the premature sale of his mother, 11-year-old Samuel is raised by slaves Lilly and Harrison. Samuel is your typical preteen boy who is sometimes worth his weight in trouble as he learns many lessons about how to behave in a time when black people had no worth outside of working for white people. This heart-wrenching story of escape, survival, and revelations also looks at the strength and tenacity of a young boy who didn¿t have an identity, but had managed to muster hope in hopeless situations. The author¿s note gives much impending realness and factual remnants that make this story a soon to be classic. The first person narration is almost biblical in its attempts to explain the ways of the world through a child¿s eyes during that era. This book is a solid choice for all middle school and high school students and a surely a must-have for all libraries serving diverse populations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Trouble Don't Last is an AMAZING book!!! I highly recommend it. Of course, I'm only fourteen, but the plot is very well-presented and exciting. I just finished reading this book for the fourth time. Every time I read it, I love it even more. It's exciting, symbolic, and amazing. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do you like thrilling escape stories? Do you like learning about history and slavery? Than you will love this book! This book won a Scott O¿Dell Award for historical fiction and it definitely resembles its award. trouble don¿t last is a story about a child named Samuel and an elderly man named Harrison escaping from slavery. They travel from Blue Ash, Kentucky all the way to Chatham, Canada, in 1859, searching for freedom. The main message that Shelly Pearsall tires to get into your mind is that slavery is horrible and was very hard for the blacks. Some weak points in this story are when she goes on and on without telling who is talking. Some strong points in this story are at the end of the chapter, she leaves a cliff-hanger making you want to read on and on and on. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes to read and learn.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a very good book. This books title is called Trouble Don¿t Last. This book is a historical fiction book that is written by Shelley Pearsall. She has written a lot of other good books and stories. An audience or person that would like this book would probably by a person that is or was interested in slavery. If I had written an opening sentence for a poem or a story to grab the audiences attention, it would be ¿Do you think slavery was good for our nation of bad?¿ This was actually a very bad thing that that our nation ever had. In one sentence, to summarize this book would be, ¿This book is about two boys, Harrison and Samuel that are running to get away from slavery. In one sentence, this book is similar to another book called ¿Freedom Train.¿ The main characters in this book are Harrison and Samuel that are both running away from slavery. They are both young boys. The setting for this book is on September, 1859 in the North and the South. The main idea of this story is for Harrison and Samuel to get away from slavery. In this book, there are really no weak or strong points in this book. I think I will encourage to read this book because I liked it and I know they will like it too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do you know about all of the hardships that slaves faced? Did you know how slaves had to stick together when running away? If you know about it and want to learn more, or if you know all about it already, the award-winning book, Trouble Don¿t last is right for you! Trouble Don¿t Last is about an 11 year old slave named Samuel and a much older slave named Harrison who run away. Along their way, they meet many obstacles and challenges, and even people willing to let them stay in their house. This heart-stopping suspense story will leave you on the edge of your seat!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do you like a book that has a twist? If you¿re a sixth grader or older you will like this book. This book is about Samuel, an 11 year old kid who is a slave, and Harrison, an old man who to is a slave. One night Harrison creeps into Samuel¿s room and tells him that they¿re running away. I find that this story is like Harriet Tubman and The Freedom Train. It is like it because she is a slave who uses the underground rail road to escape from her master. It is also like Circu du Freak. It is like it because Darren runs away. This book takes place in 1859 in Kentucky to Canada. This author tries to tell us about the life of a run away slave. I would say this book has it weak points like when Harrison and Samuel were hiding and they weren¿t talking. Then there are the strong points like when we found out all of Harrison¿s secrets. I would suggest this book to many people because it is very entertaining.
Susan Brown More than 1 year ago
i liked it
crazy4reading11 More than 1 year ago
we read this in school. i would highly recomend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a slave that ran away from his master. His mom got sold. He is left will two people to take care of him a man named Harrison and a woman named Lilly. In the end he will find out Harrison's secret......
Guest More than 1 year ago
Troubles Don't Last was a great book!! I would recommend it to anyone who likes drama and/or suspicious book. The main characters are Samuel and Harrison. Guess what Samuel and Harriso are? They are both slaves. Samuel has been a slave since he was born. He has had a lot of adventures since he ran away from his master, but guess what happened after he ran away...cause I'm not telling you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not to sure if I should get this book. I'm 12 does anyone think I would enjoy this. I'm thinking it great because the lowest rating is 3 stars. And that's only 1 review! The rest are 4 and up. Should I or no
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Y &***--**/-7*/+ h h
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This sad but awesome book about slavery really touched my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. I gotta give credit to Shelley Pearsall. This is my third favorite book and i have read many books. The story about Samuel and Harrison is addicting to hear in a good wsy
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Celest Bucknor More than 1 year ago
this book is so awsome i love it ! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago