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Great Illustrated Books

January's Sparrow

By Patricia Polacco

Philomel, 2009
Pages : 96
Suggested Ages: 9-12
ISBN: 0399250778

With the assistance of the Underground Railroad, eight-year-old Sadie Crosswhite and her family make it from Kentucky, across the Ohio River, and travel for days until they reach Marshall, Michigan, a place where they should be safe. Sixty of the 2,000 residents are Negroes, but the family is warned never to tell any white folks that they are runaways. Sadie attends school for the first time, where she becomes fast friends with Polly, a white child. After four years in Marshall, word comes that slave catchers have been spotted nearby.

The Prologue is written in the first person by an unknown narrator who says, “This here is Sadie’s story. You hark now. I’m gonna tell it for her, near as I can.” Not until the end of the book do you discover that person’s identity. Polacco’s oversized illustrations, rendered in pencils and markers, are moving, terrifying, and sometimes horrifying, but you won’t be able to look away. Note that this is Polacco’s 50th (and maybe finest) book. All the textbooks you read about the Underground Railroad pale in comparison to a story like this, one that children will remember always. It’s a worthy companion to Patricia Polacco’s Civil War story, Pink and Say, as both are picture books for older readers, and both are based on true stories. Polacco herself lives near Marshall, Michigan, and dedicated the book “To the amazing Crosswhite family and their descendents . . . with respect and honor and awe for their courage.”

Another excellent companion book is Christopher Paul Curtis’s Newbery Honor book, Elijah of Buxton, which also takes place in Michigan and in Buxton, Ontario, Canada, these days a mere three hours drive from Marshall.

Reviewed by : JF.

Themes : AFRICAN AMERICANS. FAMILY LIFE. HISTORICAL FICTION. PICTURE BOOKS FOR OLDER READERS.

If you love this book, then try:

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Chains. Simon & Schuster, 2008.


Carbone, Elisa. Night Running: How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful Dog. Knopf, 2008.


Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton. Scholastic, 2007.


Hamilton, Virginia. The People Could Fly: The Picture Book. Knopf, 2004.


Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Knopf, 1993.


Johnson, Dolores. Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family. Macmillan, 1993.


Levine, Ellen. Henry��s Freedom Box. Scholastic Press, 2007.


Polacco, Patricia. An Orange for Frankie. Philomel, 2004.


Polacco, Patricia. Chicken Sunday. Philomel, 1992.


Polacco, Patricia. Pink and Say. Philomel, 1994.


Polacco, Patricia. Thank You, Mr. Falker. Philomel, 1998.


Raven, Margot Theis. Night Boat to Freedom. Farrar, 2006.


Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet��s Underground Railroad in the Sky. Crown, 1992.


Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2006.


Winter, Jeannette. Follow the Drinking Gourd. Knopf, 1989.


Woodson, Jacqueline. Show Way. Putnam, 2005.

Critics have said

"Rooted in history, this is a masterly narrative that horrifies, moves and informs."
Kirkus