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)

POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART by Caroline Kennedy

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This is a collection of almost 200 poems, a companion to “A Family of Poems,” Caroline Kennedy’s New York Times #1 Bestseller from 2005.  This beautiful volume is filled with poetry of all sorts: about one’s self, family, friendship, and love.  There are poems about sports and games, about school.  Nonsensical poetry, poems about fairies, ogres, and witches are included too.  There are deeply touching poems about war, poetry about nature, Bible verses, and so much more are scattered together and throughout this fine book.

“Poets distill life’s lessons into the fewest possible words.  But those tiny packages of thought contain worlds of images and experiences and feelings.”  Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy writes about the importance of memorization of poetry in her introduction.  “If our circumstances change and things seem to be falling apart, we can recall a poem that reassures us. If we find ourselves in unfamiliar or frightening surroundings, a poem can remind us that others have journeyed far and returned safely home.  If we learn poems by heart, we will always have their wisdom to draw on, and we gain understanding that no one can take away.”

As a Bible verse is memorized and tucked into my heart, even if only in part, it will be there when I need it the most.  Poetry can be a similar strength in a weaker time.

This anthology has works of art by well known poets from the past such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  They remind me of poetry I once read, maybe even memorized for a class.  Geoffrey Chaucer’s General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales is even etched into this book. (I read the whole of The Canterbury Tales when I was in high school from the Old English translation, no less, each night for homework, translating it into “readable” English for Senior English class/Mrs. Lee!  I recall the assignment well.  I did not tuck any of that away for those weaker moments, I am afraid!)  Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, along with Ogden Nash, Carl Sandburg, and many others remind parents of poems they may have memorized or read.

Poetry by A.A. Milne, Nikki Giovanni, Shel Silverstein, Jane Yolen, and Jack Prelutsky represents some of the newer poets yet each stands tall among those of years gone by.

Caroline Kennedy worked regularly with the DreamYard Preparatory School in the Bronx who authored a lengthy poem (or more) in this book as well.  These young people are the DreamYard Slam Team.  She dedicates the book to them and their futures.

The watercolor paintings of Jon J. Muth are gentle and excellent for each and every page, each and every poem.  As one example, on page 35, the Bible verse, Micah 6:8, is written upon an array of blues suggesting the heavenly realm spread over the double-page:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Yes, Bible verses can also poetry.

This is another fine collection from Caroline Kennedy.  She is an advocate for poetry as she was brought up with it in her family.  They shared poetry at gatherings of the whole Kennedy clan as well as amongst their own smaller family.  Caroline said her mother, Jacqueline Kennedy, loved poetry and encouraged her children to engage with it, to memorize it.  Rose Kennedy, Caroline’s grandmother, was another encourager along this creative avenue.

Reading Level: Preschool and up

Author

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg is a lawyer, author, education advocate, and lifelong supporter of the arts.  Ms. Kennedy attended Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, England from 1975-1976. She earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from Radcliffe College at Harvard University in 1980. Ms. Kennedy received her J.D. from Columbia University Law School in 1988.  She is the Ambassador to Japan from the United States of America.

She is the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis , sister to John Kennedy.

She has written many books and articles, subjects ranging from legal issues, family and children, the Kennedy family, and poetry.

Illustrator

Jon J Muth is an American artist, born and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He loved to draw as a boy, and he also painted. His mother was an art teacher and took him to museums all over the US.  He studied stone sculpture in Japan; paintings, prints and drawings in Austria, Germany, and England.  Most of his education as an artist came from an informal apprenticeship with fine artists.

“My work in children’s books really grew out of a desire to explore what I was feeling as a new father,” says Muth. “I was working in comics and that is a natural forum for expressions of angst and questioning one’s place in the universe. When the children came it became important to say other things about the world. With the birth of my children, there was a kind of seismic shift in where my work seemed appropriate.”

Jon Muth has illustrated (and written some) picture books of high acclaim.  They are beloved around the world.

Muth lives in upstate New York with his wife and four children. Jon can be found @ jonmuth.com or on Pinterest or @ RMichelsonGalleries  or  http://www.rmichelson.com/illustration/jon-j-muth/poems-to-learn-by-heart/  for many paintings from this book.

Book Information

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; First Edition edition (March 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1423108051
  • ISBN-13: 978-1423108054
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds

 

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