Follow the Drinking Gourd

Book review by
Lisa Fratt, Common Sense Media
Follow the Drinking Gourd Book Poster Image
Engages children by bringing history to life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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.


What 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.

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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. Her rhythmic, gentle text and simple pictures in soothing nighttime tones 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.

Talk to your kids 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

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