Monday, July 28, 2014

Passenger On the Pearl - a book review

"So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well; they begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky."
                                                                - William James

Today's featured book:

Title:  Passenger on the Pearl - The True Story of Emily Edmonson's Flight from Slavery
Author:  Winifred Conkling
Publishing Date:  January 13, 2015

About the book:

This wonderfully written book is both educational and heartbreaking.  It shines a spotlight on a very disturbing and troublesome time in American history when slaves were kept and exploited by  their slave owners.  The story centres around the Edmonson family and their unrelenting struggle to have both parents and their fourteen children become free men and women.  It takes place in 1848 and Emily, along with her five siblings and seventy other enslaved people get  on board the Pearl in the Pontomac River in Washington D.C. hoping beyond hope to flee their dismal and futureless lives and reach liberty.  Unfortunately, within a day the boat is tracked down and seized and those on board are taken as prisoners once again.  The six family members are rounded up and whisked off to New Orleans to be sold.  Helpless and feeling totally hopeless Emily and her sister Mary are trapped and unable to escape. They are saved from utter despair and domination by a break out of yellow fever forcing them to be returned to Virginia.  

Eventually they are ransomed by the unrelenting concern, determination and love of their parents and abolitionists, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, who later uses them for models for the characters in her book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  With their freedom in place the girls attend Oberlin College where unfortunately Mary succumbs to tuberculosis and dies.  Emily, feeling lost and alone without her sister perseveres, graduates and becomes a teacher at the first school in Washington D.C. that is dedicated to the education of African American girls and young women.  She works on behalf of abolition for the rest of her life.

The book give you a glimpse into the hard and gruesome daily lives of slaves. The author includes 50 period photos and illustrations. Laws of that time period are documented to enlighten the reader as to how they both bound and incriminated the slaves and the high cost of a failed attempt of liberty.  I really enjoyed the book and would endorse it for sure for middle-grade reading.  

About the author:

Winifred Conkling learned about Emily and Mary Edmonson and their attempted escape on the Pearl when a statue of the sisters was erected in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2010, at the site of the building that once held the Bruin and Hill slave pen. (The building now houses commercial office space.) Curious, Conkling began to research the story of the girls’ journey to freedom and was thrilled to find extensive primary source materials, including an account written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the bestselling nineteenth century novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the autobiography of Daniel Drayton, one of the captains of the Pearl. 
Conkling studied journalism at Northwestern University and received her master of arts in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has written more than thirty nonfiction books for adults, most involving health and consumer topics. Her first book for children, Sylvia & Aki, won the 2012 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Older Readers and the 2012 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and three children.

Book Review Rating:  8 (Fantastic!)

Read on and read always!  May your day be magic.

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