Latham, Irene. Leaving Gee’s Bend.
Gee’s Bend, Alabama was an impoverished place in 1932. When Ludelphia’s mother has a premature baby and becomes ill with pneumonia afterwards, there is not much to be done, especially since the family refuses the help of a neighbor, Etta Mae, because they fear she is a witch. Ludelphia decides that she will go to Camden, forty miles away, and get a doctor for her mother. She sets off, runs into trouble with the ferry, and is found in the barn of Mrs. Cobb, whose husband ran a general store and helped many of the black citizens. Unfortunately, Mrs. Cobb is a bit undone by her husband’s recent death, and has a grudge against the people of Gee’s Bend. When she finds out that Ludelphia’s family owed her husband money, she vows to go to their house and take everything of value. Ludelphia manages to get to the local doctor, and his wife is somewhat helpful, but tells her that the only cure for her mother is rest and good food. Mrs. Cobb’s raid on Gee’s Bend is awful, but luckily Ludelphia had written to the Red Cross, and supplies soon come to help out the community.
Strengths: Ludelphia is a spunky character who takes her fate into her own hands and does her best to help everyone around her despite her own disability. This is a vivid portrait of a community under stress.
Weaknesses: I love quilting, but didn’t feel that Ludelphia’s sewing fit in with the story.
Nolen, Jerdine. Eliza’s Freedom Road.
Eliza’s master in 1854 has some money problems, and ends up selling Eliza’s mother. When the mistress becomes very sick, she goes from Virginia to Maryland to stay with her sister, and takes several slaves, including Eliza, along. Eliza knows how to read, and tells a lot of stories using the quilt that her mother left her, but dreams of her freedom. When a group of slaves at the Maryland estate find out about Harriet Tubman’s plans to go north to freedom on the Underground Railroad, Eliza also makes her own plans. When the mistress dies, she runs away and manages to make her way to Canada.
Strengths: This would be a good book to read with an elementary class covering this topic. The inclusion of various stories of importance in African American slave culture, as well as explanations of them in the back of the book, are a nice touch.
Weaknesses: Other than the stories, this is not that much different from similar stories that I have read.