This is one of those books I never would have picked up on my own and I probably never would have chosen it as a read-aloud with my daughter. I generally like to choose more 'elevated' books for our read alouds. But, somehow we ended up with a free copy, and the cover, the premise, etc. all immediately appealed to Izzy and she requested it as our next read-aloud. It's short so I thought, 'What the heck? Why not?'
The verdict? I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and Izzy absolutely loved it. Like a lot of books about kids, I didn't find every single plot point to be entirely believable, but that's really okay. What's important is that the inner-world of kids is accurately and convincingly portrayed. Kids aren't all sweetness and light. They feel pain and sadness, anxiety and fear, and even rage and jealousy just as fiercely as any adult. I really like it when books don't shy away from that. Also, kids aren't totally oblivious to adult worries. So much of what happens in this book is a result of misunderstandings based on lack of communication which is directly related to the recent divorce of the kids' parents. In short, the kids don't want to upset or worry mom so they keep their troubles to themselves.
On top of all that, it's also a rather clever little primer on business and economics. I gather the sequel takes on the legal system. Good stuff here!
I expected this to be the biggest hit of our historical fiction reading this year, but it wan't quite that. I enjoyed the story overall and there were times when I was definitely surprised by the twists and turns, but I just didn't fully buy into it or connect with it. Charlotte's transformation just wasn't totally believable. I always enjoy reading about sea voyages and adventures, however, and this was no exception.
Sarny is a 12 year old slave girl and this slim volume tells about the moment her life was forever changed by the arrival of a new slave named John. John offers to teach Sarny letters of the alphabet in exchange for tobacco. Sarny knows little of reading and writing, but knows it must be powerful stuff for the whites to so strictly forbid it. She agrees to the bargain, but is totally unprepared for the consequences.
It's remarkable what Paulsen is able to accomplish with such simple prose and in only seven short chapters. This is a really hard hitting little book that touches on some deeply disturbing aspects of slavery (as if the fact of it isn't enough). Not only are there several instances of extreme physical brutality against slaves, there are multiple mentions of the practice of breeding slaves. It's ugly stuff. The recommended reading age is 12 and up and, if reading independently, I'd agree with that assessment. However, I always say you can go a little younger when reading aloud and I read this with my 10 year old and she handled it just fine.