Follow the Drinking Gourd

Engages children by bringing history to life.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This may be your young one's introduction to the shameful history of enslavement.

Violence & scariness

The foreground of one picture depicts a slave driver with a whip. The family hides from dogs and fights off a wolf.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this story engages children by bringing history to life. Be prepared to sing the folk song (music provided) at the end.

User reviews

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Follow the stars to freedom! In song and story the legend of Peg Leg Joe, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, comes to life. The author employs song to teach young readers about a difficult subject in an age-appropriate way, without sacrificing historical accuracy. The pictures, though well done, at times are frightening for young ones.

Is it any good?


Presenting difficult topics such as slavery and the Underground Railroad without frightening young ones isn't an easy task, but Jeanette Winters accomplishes it with rhythmic, gentle text and simple pictures in soothing nighttime tones that still convey the fear and hardship runaway slaves experienced. The book successfully incorporates the musical and scientific aspects of the legend of Peg Leg Joe into the text. A few of the illustrations may seem a bit scary, but Winter keeps the presentation gentle enough for her young audience without sacrificing accuracy by presenting a watered-down version of history. While the paintings in the first half may evoke fear and pity, as the book progresses and the family nears freedom, the background colors lighten and brighten.

Though it may spur tough but valid questions about slavery, this book also stimulates an interest in astronomy, maps, history, and, of course, music.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about slavery. How do you think it would feel not to have your freedom? Why did people feel the need to enslave others?

Book details

Author:Jeanette Winter
Illustrator:Jeanette Winter
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 1, 1988
Number of pages:46
Publisher's recommended age(s):2 - 4

This review of Follow the Drinking Gourd was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass