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Follow the Drinking Gourd


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About the Author

Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated almost 50 books for children, including Diego, Emily Dickinson's Letters to the World, The Librarian of Basra, Georgia, and Mama. Her art with flat colors and perspectives in the folk art tradition have brought her many honors. She lives in New York City.


PreS-Gr 2-- Winter's picture book relates the story of an old white sailor called ``Peg Leg Joe'' who went from plantation to plantation in the pre-Civil War south, teaching enslaved blacks a folksong that he wrote, the lyrics of which held directions for following the Underground Railroad to freedom. This particular story focuses on the journey of one group of runaways who travel according to the directions of the song to reach the Ohio River, where Peg Leg Joe himself is waiting with a boat. Dramatic full-color paintings and a simple text make this part of U.S. history accessible to young readers. However, its emphasis on the role that white people played in the black flight to freedom make it an unbalanced introduction. ``Joe had a plan'' appears repeatedly in the text, making it sound as though the idea of escape and freedom originated with him, rather than with the people who were living the horror of slavery. Throughout the story, the people who are escaping are depicted as being wholly dependent on the elements and on the actions of benevolent whites, rather than on their own thoughts, ideas, and decisions. This notion is reinforced in picture after picture, as the faces of the five blacks are wide-eyed with fear while they look for the next sign from Joe to tell them what to do. They never show the expressions of courage and determination that mark the faces of the white characters in this book. Follow the Drinking Gourd is aptly titled in that it presents a history of black Americans as followers, rather than as leaders. --Kathleen T. Horning, Madison Public Library, Wis.

Before the Civil War, Peg Leg Joe traveled from one plantation to another, trying to help the slaves. He hired himself out as a farm hand, then taught the slaves a song to help them find the Underground Railroad heading north, by following the ``drinking gourd'' of the Big Dipper. On trees or rocks, he scratched his signa foot and peg markto point the way. A story unfolds about five slaves who made it to Canada using the stars, Peg Leg's sign and the help of Quakers and farmers along the way. Told in a few, poetic words (and the lines of the song), the text is set off with highly dramatic illustrations, with the flat perspectives that are characteristic of primitive art. Yet the expressiveness of the figures perfectly conveys the fear, dread and hope that inspired people to make the run for freedom. With a clarity of language suitable for preschoolers, the book will also be of value to older children. Ages 5-9. (Nov . )

"A fine rendering of history in picture book format."-Booklist, Starred

"An extraordinary and inspiring tribute to a unique part of African-American
history."-Boston Globe "The artist's hauntingly muted pictures propel the story forward and make
it memorable."-Washington Post Book World

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