A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book deals directly with many of the hardships endured by enslaved African-American people in the pre-Civil War South, from verbal and physical abuse on the plantation to the terrors on the dangerous Underground Railway. For children old enough to comprehend some aspects of the historical setting and political situation in the story, this is an emotionally rewarding and ultimately optimistic story.
What's the story?
Set on a plantation in antebellum Virginia, the story is narrated by a rag doll named Sally. She belongs to a little girl named Lindy whose family is enslaved by the owners of the plantation. Lindy works in the cotton fields alongside her mother. Her father has been sold \"down the river\" for promoting an idea that is still often talked about: Freedom. Sally does not know what or where this Freedom is, but she can see that it is important to the adults around Lindy. After Lindy is whipped by the overseer for asking the master's son how to spell her name, she and her mother escape one night and are reunited with Lindy's father. Together they travel on the Underground Railroad toward Freedom, but approaching slave catchers cause them to flee a safe house in the middle of the night -- and Sally is accidentally left behind. She stays alone in the hiding place until another little girl named Willa and her family arrive at the safe house. Sally is renamed Belinda and is happy to be in the arms of a little girl again.
Is it any good?
This moving tale is powerfully presented. Because of the time and the setting, there are many unhappy moments in the story; however, the warmth of the family and community connections, as well as the little girl's loving relationship with her doll, make the bad parts more bearable. Written in authentic dialect, the story is well told. The author draws the reader closely into the personal experience of enslavement, balancing unspeakable suffering with extreme courage and determination.
Using the voice, perspective, and naiveté of the doll offers a natural way to make a complicated historical situation more accessible for children. Illustrator Colin Bootman uses a dark palette with the soft illuminations of starlight and candlelight. In his historically accurate full-page and double-page spreads, the characters are alive with a huge range of emotions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Underground Railroad. How did it begin, and how did it operate? What was at risk for the organizers, the hosts, and the people fleeing slavery? Kids may want to talk about slaves' family disruption -- parents can help explain the long-lasting consequences for African Americans. How did Sally provide stability for Lindy? How do you think she felt after she lost her doll?