January's Sparrow
January's Sparrow

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Annotation: After a fellow slave is beaten to death, Sadie and her family flee the plantation for freedom through the Underground Railroad.
Catalog Number: #37857
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition Date: 2009
Pages: 94 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-399-25077-8 Perma-Bound: 0-605-25970-4
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-399-25077-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-25970-6
Dewey: E
LCCN: 2008052726
Dimensions: 29 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Told from the viewpoint of Sadie Crosswhite, a young child who was born into slavery, this dramatic picture book is based on true events that took place in Marshall, Michigan, near where Polacco lives today. The narrative begins with shocking brutality on a Kentucky plantation: Sadie and her family watch while her foster brother, January, is whipped and kicked to death for trying to escape to freedom. With the threat of being auctioned off, the family members run away that night, bound for Canada, and the unframed pictures show their journey on the Underground Railroad, pursued by the slave catchers with savage dogs, until they find shelter in Marshall. Will they be safe there? Are there spies? Sadie goes to school and makes friends, but then the slave catchers come, and so does a surprising visitor. The characters' melodramatic expressions in the colored-pencil-and-marker artwork sometimes overstate and simplify the complex emotions in the words. Still, Sadie's first-person narrative, in modified dialect, captures the terror, excitement, and hope of the powerful history.
Horn Book
This long picture book is based on a true historical incident, one that illuminates the necessity and strategies of the Underground Railroad. The sometimes brutal tale, written with a minimum of sentimentality, is dramatic and compelling. Save for some cartooning in the faces, the pictures reveal Polacco's work at its best: fluid and confident drawing, and an impressive command of the page.
Kirkus Reviews
A voice in the prologue, in the dialect cadences of the slave narratives, introduces the stark opening image of a black man, roped and bloodied, dragged by two white men on horseback—the paddy rollers. Eight-year-old Sadie Crosswhite is forced to watch with her parents and siblings as their beloved friend, January Drumm, is whipped and carried off for burial, the price for trying to run away. Sadie and her family run away that night, stopping in Marshall, Mich., with its free black community. They tell no one that they are runaways, as harboring them is against the law. The slave catchers track the Crosswhites down some four years later, in 1847, and in a blazing scene the townspeople of Marshall, black and white, defy them, even as January himself appears, baring his horribly scarred back. Polacco's passionately realized images use every tool in the artist's arsenal: pictures structured like Expressionist etchings or Mannerist saints; echoes of Delacroix and Ryder, Rembrandt and Goya. Rooted in history (a comprehensive bibliography is promised online), this is a masterly narrative that horrifies, moves and informs. (Illustrated fiction. 9-14)
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 46 Fleshing out historical events with invented but credible details, Polacco retraces the 1840s flight of the Crosswhite family from slavery to freedom and the dramatic standoff between the residents (black and white both) of the Michigan town where they settled and a band of "paddy rollers" sent to fetch the fugitives back to Kentucky. In lightly idiomatic language ("'Hark now,' their daddy whispered. 'We is gonna cross water tonight!'"), the author relates most of the tale from the point of view of Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, and threads the narrative with a typical depiction of strong family bondsexpanded here to include the loyalty displayed by a crowd of townfolk who not only held off the paddy rollers until the Crosswhites could escape to Canada, but later paid hefty fines for defying fugitive slave laws. The illustrations, which include scenes of a bloody whipping and a heavily scarred back, have an urgent, unsettled look that fully captures the sharply felt danger and terror of Sadie's experiences. Particularly telling is the contrast between the open, mobile, well-lit faces of the Crosswhites and the shadowed, menacing miens of their pursuers. An iffy claim near the end that Lincoln "gave all slaves their freedom" aside, this moving account effectively highlights a significant instance of nonviolent community resistance to injustice. John Peters, New York Public Library
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

Based on actual events, Polacco’s (In Our Mothers’ House) story is at once horrifying and heartening. It centers on the Crosswhite family, slaves who flee their Kentucky plantation after witnessing the merciless whipping of January, a slave caught while attempting escape. Led to believe that January died from his wounds, Sadie Crosswhite is heartbroken when she inadvertently leaves behind the wooden sparrow he carved for her. Writing in credible dialect, Polacco conveys the family’s fear and fortitude as they follow the North Star, “trackin’ through cornfields, climbin’ up bluffs, rollin’ through muck and mud.” They take refuge in Marshall, Mich., a sanctuary on the Underground Railroad, where they remain until slave chasers track them down. After a confrontation in which the town rallies behind them, the Crosswhites steal away for Canada, accompanied by January, who has shown up unexpectedly. Like Polacco’s prose, her dynamic and sometimes brutal pictures, rendered in pencils and markers, hold nothing back—be it the Crosswhites’ anguish and terror while under pursuit or their affection for each other and those who harbor them. An illuminating and trenchant account. Ages 8–up. (Oct.)

Word Count: 7,372
Reading Level: 4.4
Interest Level: 2-5
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.4 / points: 1.0 / quiz: 133241 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.6 / points:4.0 / quiz:Q48251
Lexile: 760L
Guided Reading Level: S

Patricia Polacco's most powerful book since Pink and Say.

In the middle of the night, The Crosswhites?including young Sadie?must flee the Kentucky plantation they work on. Dear January has been beaten and killed by the plantation master, and they fear who may be next. But Sadie must leave behind her most valuable possession, the wooden sparrow carved for her by January. Through the Underground Railroad, the Crosswhites make the slow and arduous journey to Marshall, Michigan, where they finally live in freedom. And there they stay, happily, until the day a mysterious package shows up on their doorsteps. It is January?s sparrow, with a note that reads, ?I found you.?

How the Crosswhites, and the whole town of Marshall, face this threat will leave readers empowered and enthralled. This is a Polacco adventure that will live in the minds of children for years.

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