UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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“The way of the wicked is as darkness; he knoweth not at what he stumbleth.”

Written in 1852, this book continues today as a classic novel about slavery, racism, hope and the Christian faith.  It was written to educate as well as to remind future generations.  It was a best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year.  It also sold then, and still sells today, in the international market.  It has been on banned book lists since its publication.  Today, many school districts and/or states ban it due to language, racism, and/or Christianity.

Mrs. Stowe was from the Northeast United States.  The United States Congress passed the Compromise of 1850. It was intended to address the concerns of slave holding and free states, yet it helped galvanize the abolition movement.  Mrs. Stowe formed her stance on slavery because of this law.  Among the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 were the end of the slave trade, but not slavery, and the creation of a stricter Fugitive Slave Law. Helping runaways had been illegal since 1793, but the 1850 law required that everyone help catch fugitives.  This law erased any protection that a fugitive had had.  Anyone on the street could be picked up and accused of being a fugitive from slavery.  Thus free Blacks were often picked up and sent into slavery.

She was angry, believing her country was now requiring her to comply with a system that she believed was unjust and immoral.  While she and her husband, Calvin Stowe, were living in Maine, she disobeyed the law by hiding runaways.  Mrs. Stowe lived in Connecticut, Ohio, and Maine, yet she knew slavery through several avenues.  While in Ohio, she and her husband were a part of the Underground Railroad.  Her brother met a plantation owner who was cruel and evil as the book’s Simon Legree.  She traveled to Kentucky where she visited plantations with slaves.  She felt the message of slavery needed to be espoused clearly and loudly. She shared her frustrations and feelings of powerlessness with her family.  It was then that her sister-in-law suggested she do more: “…if I could use a pen as you can, Hatty, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.”  This letter touched Mrs. Stowe to the heart.  She was determined to write “if [she] lived.”

The story follows two lines.  One is Tom who chooses to stay with his family rather than run away once he finds that he is to be sold to pay debts of the plantation owner.  He hoped that his family would be able to stay together if he did not run.  The second is Eliza who finds that her young son, Harry, is also to be sold for these debts.  Eliza chooses to run away with Harry.

We follow Eliza and Harry as they wind their way on escape routes, running just ahead of slave hunters, being protected by Quakers missionaries along the way to arrive safely in Canada.  We also follow Tom from plantation owners who treat their slaves gently and kindly to being sold to a harsh slave trader who then sells Tom to other plantation owners.  The final one is the cruel and violent Simon Legree.

Slavery and the slave trade separated families, husbands from wives, mothers from children.  Punishments, fierce and gruesome, showed that slaves were treated as less than human.  Freedom came for some; others received promises of freedom, but when the master died suddenly or he racked up a lot of debt, those slaves were sold “down the river.”

There are moments in the story filled with hope and love, people desiring to help others.  There are times filled with cruelty and fear, people filled with hatred.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin is fiction yet is based on a conglomerate portrait of slaves, owners, families, and abolitionists.  It has the genuine mixture of story/subject, characters, settings, and emotions to make it a classic and a bestseller.  It is an excellent story, although so hard and harsh at times, yet carried along with hope and love.

Author

Harriet Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and Roxanna Foote Beecher (1775- 1816); the sixth of 11 children.  The Beechers expected their children to make a difference in the world, and they truly did:

  • All seven sons became ministers (the most effective way to influence society in that period)
  • Oldest daughter, Catharine pioneered education for women
  • Youngest daughter, Isabella was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association
  • Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write. Her most famous work exposed the truth about the greatest social injustice of her day – human slavery

Stowe began her formal education at Sarah Pierce’s academy, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects and not simply ornamental arts.  In 1824, she became a student and then a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, which was founded by her sister Catharine.

In 1851, The National Era’s publisher contracted with Stowe for a story that would “paint a word picture of slavery” and that would run in installments.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly turned out to be more than 40 installments before it was published into a book.

In all, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing career spanned 51 years, during which time she published 30 books and countless short stories, poems, articles, and hymns.

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This has been a book I have wanted to read for years and years.  I finally decided it would fit into my library of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon, two excellent non-fiction books.

 

 

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Book Information

ISBN-13: 9781593081218
Publisher:  Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2005
Series:  Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 7.96(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.32(d)
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STEAMBOAT SCHOOL by Deborah Hopkinson

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Illustrator:  Ron Husband

Steamboat School was inspired by a true story.  It took place in Saint Louis, Missouri, before and around 1847.  Reverend John Berry Meachum had a strong desire to educate children in the years prior to the Civil War.

His own life was one of hardship and struggle as Mr. Meachum was born into slavery in 1789.  He worked to buy his own freedom and his father’s by the time he was 21.  He journeyed to St. Louis looking for his wife and children.  He worked as a carpenter and cooper (barrel maker) to earn enough to purchase their freedom, as well as a residence for his now-free family.

By 1826, he had been ordained a Baptist minister and became pastor of St. Louis’ First African Baptist Church.  While there, he began teaching black children in the basement of the church.  (In the true story, he taught free and enslaved blacks, children and adults alike.)  The school was called “The Tallow Candle School.”  In 1847, with racial tensions mounting, Missouri enacted a new law forbidding “Negroes or mulattoes” to be instructed in reading and writing.  His school was shut down.  But Reverend Meacham did not give up.

Early one morning, under the cover of darkness, he gathered his students and rowed them out into the Mississippi River to a steamboat in which he held class.  This school has been called the “Floating Freedom School.”  The river was considered Federal property, thus under federal jurisdiction.  Children and adults continued to learn because of the courage of this man.  His students grew in courage, as well, while learning to read and write.  One such student became a consul to Liberia.

This book has two pages at the end with actual historical events and background which aided in the writing of this historical fiction.  It is an excellent story to learn more about slavery and the freedom that came through education.  The courage of a single man made a difference in many lives.  Some 300 Blacks went through one or both schools of Reverend Meacham.  There are resource pages with websites and books to further one’s learning of the Meachams and of this period.

The Meacham home was part of the Underground Railroad.  In 2001, the Mary Meacham Freedom Crossing became the first site in Missouri to be recognized as part of the United States of America’s National Park Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Age Range:  3 – 5 Years

Author

Deborah Hopkinson is the author of more than forty books for young readers including picture books, short fiction, and nonfiction.  Most of them are history-related.  Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building won an ALA Notable and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book, Apples to Oregon won the Golden Kite Award and Spur Storytelling Award, and in 2013 she received both a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert honor for Titanic: Voices from the Disaster.  She has won many Oregon awards for a number of her other books, too.

Deborah Hopkinson was born in Massachusetts, lived in many cities, and now resides in West Linn, Oregon (near Portland).  She can be found @ deborahhopkinson.com and @ https://twitter.com/Deborahopkinson

Illustrator

Ron Husband worked at Disney Feature Animation for thirty-eight years and holds the distinction of being the first African American Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Studios.  He has animated many well-known Disney films including The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia 2000, Pocahontas, and Atlantis.  He illustrates children’s books and activity books.  He recently authored his own book about drawing, Quick Sketching, published by Focal Press.  He has retired from Disney, but continues to share his talents through workshops and speaking engagements.

Ron lives in San Dimas, California, with his wife. They have three children and three granddaughters.  Find him @ ronhusband.blogspot.com and on Google Plus @ https://plus.google.com/108206495971534759760

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Book Information:

ISBN-13: 9781423121961
Publisher:  Disney Press
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Pages: 40
Product dimensions: 10.30(w) x 11.50(h) x 0.40(d)

THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN OF BOOKS IN THE WORLD by Rocio Bonilla

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Originally published in Spain, 2015

Translated into English by Mara Lethem for publication in 2016

“Lucas was convinced he was born to fly.”  From a very young age, Lucas watched all that flew or floated in the air.  As he grew, he made his own wings and tried to fly with them.  When they failed, he would make a different pair of wings and try once again.  He asked Santa and made birthday wishes for wings…ones that “really” would let him fly.  But none of them worked.

One birthday, his mother told him that there were other ways to fly.  She placed a book in his hands.  Lucas did not understand what she meant, but he read the book while in their garden patio.  He loved the story so much that he got another book from the family bookshelf….and then another and another.  He began stacking one book on top of another as he read them. It grew taller and taller.

Each story taught Lucas something, whether it was history or science facts, about new places he had never been, or about places that did not even exist, but the mind would travel there through the book.  He met literary characters as you will recognize on many pages.  Each book gave Lucas wings to fly.

This book is quite clever as it encourages reading to such a fun and fine degree.

The illustrations are delightful and in subtle colors over each double-paged spread.  As you read the words and spend time with the art, the reader senses motion and flight.

  • Age Range: 5 – 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3

Author/Illustrator

Rocio Bonilla was born in Barcelona, 1970.  She received her degree in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona.  She began her career through various disciplines such as painting, mural painting, photography, advertising.

Motherhood changed her career though as she abandoned advertising and created “Once Upon a Time,” a company dedicated to decorating children’s spaces with hand-painted murals.

In 2010, Ms. Bonilla combined illustration of children’s albums with mural painting.  She has published several papers in journals, illustrated posters and nearly thirty books with different publishers.

As an author, she has published three titles: “Face Bird,” “The Highest Mountain of Books in the World” and “What Color is a Kiss?”  originally in Spanish and into several translations. 

She can be found @ http://www.rociobonilla.com/ and  https://www.facebook.com/eraseunavezilustraciones

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Book Information

  • Hardcover: 42 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Pauper Press (September 1, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441319999
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441319999
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.5 x 11.7 inches

THE WHISPER by Pamela Zagarenski

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This is a book about the joy and delight in reading and imagining.  It is a book about creativity and having fun.  It is a beautiful book in color, in creation, and in childhood (no matter what age one is!).  As I looked upon each double-page I felt a delight in the visual as well as where my mind began to take me.

“There once was a little girl who loved stories.  She loved how the words and pictures took her to new and secret places that existed in a world all her own….” 

The little girl’s teacher loans her a book.  It is a special book to this teacher because her grandmother gave it to her as a gift.

As the little girl heads home, the book is under her arm and is slightly open.  The words are escaping from the pages and into the air.  We, then, see a fox holding up a net and catching the escaping words.  When the little girl gets a chance that night to open the book, she is sadly disappointed to find the book has no words, no stories.

Yet, she continues to look through this book.  As she does, she hears the wind and a whisper: “Dear little girl, don’t be disappointed.  You can imagine the words.  You can imagine the stories.  Start with a few simple words and imagine from there.  Remember: beginnings, middles, and ends of stories can always be changed and imagined differently.  There are never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imaginings–imagining just is.”

She looks carefully at each double page picture and imagines what story it could be telling.  She starts slowly with a few words, the beginnings.  For each reader, the story is his or hers to imagine because each double page has a beginning, leaving an unfinished sentence such as, “He promised…” or “Last week…” or “Tiger had something important to say….”  Along with these unfinished sentences, the reader will find the word-catching fox and a rabbit, bees with a honeycomb, a crown, art all over and around each set of pages.

The art inspires one’s creative juices to flow.  As I read the beginnings of the little girl’s stories, I thought that one could use this beautiful book in so many luscious ways.  Of course, each beginning initiates a story.  Then, I would love to sit with a child without reading those beginnings and let the child tell me a story.  Or she/he could write a story by visually feasting upon the art.  Most children today are so electronically connected  that their imaginations can often be like a well run dry.  This book could easily be used as a tool to spark that creativity, that imagination.  Let us use books such as this one to fill those wells back up to full.

I felt so inspired myself.  I found the book in our public library and will surely want to own a copy to use with the children I tutor as I did during the Spring semester with a second grade girl.

Age Range: 4 – 7 Years (and older)

Author/Illustrator

Pamela Zagarenski is so creative.  She loves to draw and paint and has been using these creative outlets as long as she can remember.  She uses the natural world and her vivid imagination for her ideas.  She says, “I do all of my sketch work for my books in my journals. I have lots of ideas. ..some things become ‘real’ and others don’t.  I just play, and I write, and eventually the pieces come together to form something in paint and words.” 

The Whisper is her first book as both the illustrator and the author.  Prior to this, her art has won Caldecott Honors Awards for Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue–CALDECOTT HONOR 2013 and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman–CALDECOTT HONOR 2010

You can find her art @ http://www.pzagarenski.com/Home.html

She has a Twitter account as well @ https://twitter.com/Sacredbeez

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Book Information

ISBN-13: 9780544416864
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 40
Product dimensions: 8.70(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.40(d)