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January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco

January's Sparrow (edition 2009)

by Patricia Polacco, Patricia Polacco (Illustrator)

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1302092,561 (4.65)5
Title:January's Sparrow
Authors:Patricia Polacco
Other authors:Patricia Polacco (Illustrator)
Info:Philomel (2009), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 96 pages
Collections:Fiction, Your library
Tags:Youth, Historical Fiction, African-American, Slavery, Freedom, Underground Railroad

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January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco



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This is a beautifully written story of escaped slaves on the underground railway and later living in Michigan, but always in fear of being recaptured. Sadie and her family escape in the middle of the night, after watching her best friend, January, being tied and beaten to death. January had carved a sparrow about to take flight for Sadie. In their haste to leave, Sadie had left the sparrow on the windowsill. The book vividly describes the harrowing trip across the river, walking for miles and days in the darkness until finally reaching what they thought was safety in Michigan. One night, the master's son found them and tried to take them back to Kentucky. January miraculously appears and helps the townspeople buy enough time for the family to escape one more time to Canada. This story is well worth the read, but would be difficult for elementary students to get through on their own. I suggest reading it aloud over several days, allowing for class discussion throughout. It depicts life for slaves and runaways before the Civil War, giving a first hand perspective from the point of view of a slave. This book is appropriate for a study of slavery, Civil War times, and Black History month (year). Patricia Polacco, another author who has visited our school several times, is another unbelievable speaker, filled with emotion and experience of a life filled with challenges and successes. Because most of her books are long, and this one in particular is written in the vernacular of the times, I think they are best experienced with the help of an adult reader. The illustrations draw you in to the story and help the text come alive. ( )
  RLeiphart | Feb 6, 2017 |
January’s Sparrow takes place during the time the Civil War. After witnessing the beating and death of fellow plantation slave January, Sadie must escape the Kentucky plantation and head north to the free states. This book can be used in the classroom to introduce the touchy topic of the brutality of slavery. ( )
  TiffanyA | Mar 27, 2016 |
Summary: The story is about a African-American family living during the time of the underground railroad, and the ownership of black people was legal. The Crosswhite family was a group of black people owned by Master Francis Giltner. After watching another fellow black person, January, get beaten bloody and (to what they thought) death, the Crosswhite family decides to run away to Canada. They travel very far from Kentucky to Michigan where they settle for a while because it is a free state. The black children go to school, the adults can actually work, and Sadie, one of the main character even befriends a little white girl who becomes her greatest friend. Finally, Giltner, the previous owner of the Crosswhite family, finds them and tries to take them back. In the end, the Crosswhites are able to escape after the judge in that town jails Giltner for kidnapping and the Crosswhites escape to Canada.

Personal Reaction: Well, I read it… My boyfriend read it… Then I read it again. We both thought the first four pages were unnecessary and the graphic illustrations of the beating were not appropriate for children. However, this is a very good book for Black History Month and to study the underground railroad. The illustrations were very realistic and colorful. There were many words on a page and the language was a little different, lacking in grammar, but it showed how people talked back then. I did enjoy the book, and was very pleased to find a happy ending.

Classroom Extension Ideas:
1) Before reading this, the teacher can have a discussion with the class about the underground railroad. First, ask the students if they know what the underground railroad is, when did it start, why and how was it used, and after asking these questions tell the students the history about the underground railroad. While reading the book, have the children write down which characters were involved with the underground railroad.
2) This book has many new words that can be introduced to students. The teacher can give a list of vocabulary terms, such as Sparrow, Plantation, Lynch, and even Slave, to the students before reading this book. Have students write down what they think the word means, then have students look up in dictionaries what the word means. While reading the book, students can observe where the new words are and how they are used. The teacher can play a spelling game after the book. ( )
  Genevieve.Foerster | Mar 21, 2016 |
It is a powerful book that shows students just how real slavery was and it describes to them what the journey through the Underground Railroad would be like if they were a slave in the 1860s.

CC: Connection to Civil War, Underground Railroad, writing process and important elements of a story such as conflict, characters, setting, plot, and theme.
  jeziorskij | Mar 3, 2016 |
Summary: "January's Sparrow" begins with the Crosswhite family's friend, January, being beaten and killed for running away from their master. That night, the family finds out that their sons will be sold, as a result, they begin their journey on the Underground Railroad to find freedom. However, Sadie Crosswhite leaves a wooden sparrow January craved for her in the window. After a few days, the family makes it to the town of Marshall where nearly 2,000 people lived, and 60 of them were African Americans. The family begins making a life for themselves in the town and they believe they are safe as long as no one tells any of the white townspeople that they are runways. Sadie soon starts school and becomes friends with a white girl named Polly, which she tells her that her family are runways. One day, they receive a package with Sadie's wooden sparrow and a note that says "I found you." The family stays in Marshall, however, they are very watchful of strangers coming to town. But one night, slave catchers storm in their house and begin to drag the family out of the house to take them back to Kentucky. However, the father breaks free and rings the Auction bell which warns the townspeople, black and white, and they come out to help the Crosswhite family. The slave catchers and the townspeople begin arguing about letting the family go. However, the sheriff informs the townspeople that the slave catchers have a right to take the family back. All hope is lost until January appears and tells his story of how he was tortured and left for dead by their previous masters and the Crosswhite's father took him to a Quaker's house and pretended to bury his body. After the townspeople hear this and see his scars they pushed and tugged on the slave catchers. As a result, the slave catchers were arrested and kept for a few days until the Crosswhites could start their journey to Canada before the slave catchers can catch them.

Review: The central message of this book is many people, black and white, risked their lives to help families escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Overall, I thought this book was well written and heartfelt due to the description of the tragedies this family went through and how they were able to escape to freedom. However, I thought the illustrations and detailed events of many horrific events are a little too intense for young readers. For example, the first page of the book is a drawing of a bloody man with torn clothes being dragged by a rope tied around his hands as his face shows his suffering. In addition, there is another drawing of a slave pinned to the ground by stakes where his back is covered with bloody lashes as he lays in a pool of blood, and two different slave catchers are whipping and stomping on him. Even though this story presents a beautiful story of sacrifice and courage, I would not use this book for young readers because the pictures and language is too graphic. ( )
  rjones34 | Dec 6, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399250778, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:20 -0400)

After a fellow slave is beaten to death, Sadie and her family flee the plantation for freedom through the Underground Railroad.

(summary from another edition)

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