Monday, September 19, 2016

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson & Illus by Ron Husband

My mother sent me a list of books about school from the NY Times. I had to go request them all from the library. 

This one is really incredible. Based on a true story, this is about an 1847 Missouri law banning any person from teaching an African-American to read or write and the Reverend John Berry Meachum who found a way to work around the law.  

Going to school was not what a young James wanted to do. 

But his Mama told him this was a proud day!

The day James started at Reverend John's Tallow School. Since the school was in the church basement, they had to use candles to make their own light.

Despite James' lack of enthusiasm, he began to learn from Reverend John.

Until some men came and broke the school up. 

It is hard to think that grown men could come up with such a silly law and even sillier to think they would actually enforce it. Prejudice is a terrible thing. 

The school was closed.

James wasn't sure when that school and Reverend John had become important to him, but they had. 

I felt as if a penny I had counted on had fallen out of my pocket.

James kept working at what Reverend John had been teaching him.

He practiced reading.

Until the day came when Reverend John asked James and his older sister Tassie to help him fix up an old riverboat.

When the steamboat was finished, the word was whispered around.

"In three days' time, meet at dawn, meet where the river bends. Be careful."

And there was their new school.

Because the river was federal territory and Missouri couldn't enforce state laws on federal territory.

Reverend John Berry Meachum was a slave who bought his freedom through working in the saltpeter mines. (I have no idea what saltpeter mines are.) He then worked and bought his father, and wife from slavery. He then bought some slaves himself, freeing them and asking them to work to pay back the purchase price. He then became prominent in education and church service.

This guy was a superhero. 

This is a really good book to get kids talking about civil rights and how ridiculous laws like this were. The end of the book has an Explore More page with resources for further research. I feel like this would work great with third graders who are just starting to research things.

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