January’s Sparrow

January's Sparrow9780399250774_p0_v1_s260x420January’s Sparrow

Patricia Polacco, Author and Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  African-American, Slavery, Fugitives, Underground Railroad, Freedom

Opening/Synopsis“Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.  All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.”  Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her.   He had carved a  sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run.  Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard that two of their four children were going to be sold.  The fled the Kentucky Plantation with only the clothes on their back and in the middle of the night.   They made a harrowing trip across the Ohio River into Indiana and traveled the Underground Railroad north to freedom in Marshall, Michigan.  In Marshall, there was a growing number of Negro families who found support and friendship in the white community.  Sadie’s father and brothers found jobs, and Sadie attended school.  But, the family was always on the look-out for bounty hunters and angry masters searching for runaway slaves.  One day a package arrived with Sadie’s treasured sparrow inside.  Attached to it was a note that said, “I found you.”  What will her family do?  Readers will be surprised by the ending.

Why I like this book:  Patricia Polacco has taken a true story that she discovered a few miles from her Michigan home and written a compelling story for children about slavery and the underground railroad.  In fact the home she lives in was site of underground activity.  In writing this story, Polacco used “dialect modified from slave narratives,” which enhanced the unique voice of January.  Polacco did a lot of research about the Crosswhite family and the amazing community of Marshall, MI, which adds considerably to the story’s authenticity.  Polacco’s vivid and colorful artwork is done with charcoal and watercolor.  She captures the fear, terror, pain and the joy in her powerful, detailed and expressive illustrations.  Visit Patricia Polacco on her website.  You can see a photo of her home built in the 1800s, and learn some interesting facts about famous visitors.

Resources:  Patricia Polacco has a Guide for Educators with Curriculum Connections, Discussion Questions and Classroom Activities, including a Reading Response Journal.  You will need to scroll down the PDF file to find January’s Sparrow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

40 thoughts on “January’s Sparrow

  1. What a compelling story, Pat. It sounds very well researched. It’s so important that kids learn about history that you don’t find in a history book.


  2. What a fascinating book! This time in US history saddens yet draws me. We studied it in homeschool and visited one of the Underground Railroad stops. I’m going to check out the author’s site. Thanks!


    • Jarm, I feel the same way. It is a sad part of our history, but I’m drawn to reading and learning about this period. Polacco’s story is a good book for older kids. There was a huge house across from my neighborhood, that was part of the Underground Railroad. As a child I made up stories in my head about what happened inside that home.


  3. Another fine children’s book. Around here (in Utah) there’s been an uproar in schools over a children’s book that features a child with two moms. It’s been banned/ unbanned/ banned again/ then unbanned. Ay carajo.


  4. Patricia,

    I love your reviews. They make me want to run out and buy the books to read for myself. With a new Kindle I now have more books than I can read in months, but you make reading more interesting expecially for the young. Thanks for sharing the reviews.


  5. Such an emotive issue. I remember first learning about slavery and reading books such as “Black Like me.” These books had such a profound effect on me as a young person. We must always keep the memory of it alive and be aware of places in the world where slavery is sill alive and kicking!


    • Lovely comment Margot! Stories like this must be told. As Niamh pointed out, “slavery is still alive and kicking “in the world. A new generation of children need to understand this dark period of our history.


    • Darlene, I hope a lot of children read this book during Black History Month. Especially because it is a true story and because it is so beautifully illustrated. You really experience the story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s