In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Slavery for your 7-year-old

Dear Aunt Debbie, 

I haven't seen I Saw Esau, but clearly it's a book we need to get into this house -- what fun!

I wrote a while ago about reading the Molly books from the American Girl series, and being pleased to find them better than I'd expected. Recently, Eleanor has picked them up to read on her own, and has been ripping through them; inspired, I've gotten us several more from the series via the library. 

For the last week or so, then, Eleanor has been engrossed in the Addy books, by Connie Porter.  By virtue of their main character's story, they are far more intense in their content than the Molly books were. I can see why the first one would have riveted Mona in an ER waiting room

Addy Walker is born into slavery, and in her first book, Meet Addy, she lives on Master Stevens's plantation with her parents, her 15-year-old brother Sam, and her one-year-old sister, Esther. There are a few details about her experience of slavery that are quite hard-hitting, especially in a book aimed at ages 7 and up. In one scene, Addy is tasked with picking worms off the leaves of tobacco plants. When she misses some, the overseer follows her down the row, gathering them, then forces her to eat them. This made quite an impression on Eleanor (and on almost 4-year-old Isabel, who heard it from her older sister and then proceeded to repeat it to several people we met the next day).  There is also a mention of Sam having scars on his back from being whipped the previous year when he tried to escape -- we don't see the scene, but it's referred to.

Perhaps the most disturbing scene comes when Addy's father and brother are sold to another plantation owner just before the family had planned to run away together.  Despite the loss of half of their family, Addy and her mother stick to the plan, leaving baby Esther behind with other slaves on the plantation, and eventually make it to a safe house on the Underground Railway.  The next five books take place in Philadelphia, among freedmen.

The level of intensity here led Eleanor to put the book down for a few days after reading about Poppa and Sam being tied up and taken away.  That's when I picked it up: the first time I've had to read on my own something Eleanor was reading on her own, so we could talk about it.  (Hooray!)  Because I knew what was coming, I was able to reassure her: no, despite the picture of Momma flailing in the roaring river, she doesn't drown, and she and Addy do escape successfully.  I didn't push Eleanor to finish the book, but left it out on the coffee table without commenting on it.  A few days later, she sat down and finished it.  In less than a week, she has now read books 2, 3, and 4, and we have 5 and 6 on hold at the library.  Friends, we have a READER.

I'm running a bit behind: I've read  Addy Learns a Lesson, and am just starting Addy's Surprise (so far, it's Eleanor's favorite).  Addy Learns a Lesson introduces Addy's good, kind friend, Sarah, who is also a former slave, and her new nemesis, Harriet, a spoiled girl who was born free.  There is well-woven historical detail, but the focus is on relationships between school-age girls.

One interesting choice in Connie Porter's writing is that the slaves and former slaves don't speak with proper English grammar.  It's not full-on black dialect, but there's a definite voice here: "Momma and me saving for a lamp."  Addy's teacher is a college-educated black woman, and speaks with perfect grammar.  Eleanor hasn't commented on this yet, but it struck me while reading.  I find myself looking forward to the rest of the books, and even more so, to the conversations they'll inspire.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. The Addy books were my daughter's introduction to slavery, too: