Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: Sailing to Freedom

Sailing to Freedom
By: Martha Bennett Stiles
Published by:  Henry Holt and Company; Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9238-7
Price: $16.99
Ages: 8-12
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by: Wayne S. Walker

Synopsis: It is 1852 and twelve-year-old Raymond Justin Ingle Jr. (Ray) lives in Newburyport, MA, with his father who is captain of the clipper ship Black Skimmer, and his mother.  Ray’s father returns home from a voyage, gives Ray a capuchin monkey named Allie which had been abandoned by a sailor, and then has to leave again.  Ray thinks that he’s old enough to sign aboard, but his father says no, not until he’s grown a little more.  After Captain Ingle leaves, Mrs. Ingle receives a letter from her sister in Boston who is having twins and needs help.  So Mam leaves too, having made arrangements for Ray, along with Allie, to stay with his Uncle Slye, a stingy miser who runs a grocery down the street, and work in the store to pay for his keep.
Ray learns two things about his Uncle Slye—he hates monkeys and is plotting with an oily slave catcher named Phineas Ward to capture a slave baby whom some smuggler is trying to transport north in defiance of the terms of the Fugitive Slave Law.  When Allie makes a mess of Uncle Slye’s store, Ray takes the monkey and runs away.  After hearing some sailors talking about a fruit ship which has the reputation of hauling “two-legged black spiders,” he learns that his Uncle Thad’s schooner, the Newburyport Beauty, has just docked, so he asks Uncle Thad if he can go with him.  Thad agrees and brings Ray aboard as a cook’s apprentice.  Ray knows that Cook used to be a slave but is now free.  However, while working in the galley, Ray discovers what Cook is hiding in the kitchen pantry.  What is it?  And how might it endanger all their lives?
Overall thoughts:  Sailing to Freedom is great children’s fiction in a historical setting.  Author Martha Bennett Stiles, who has also written One Among the Indians about the settlement of Jamestown, has a way of grabbing the reader’s attention immediately by creating true-to-life characters who are involved in an exciting story.  There are some references to smoking a pipe, chewing tobacco, and drinking brandy, and the childish slang term “fart” is used a few times.  However, on at least a couple of occasions Ray gives credit to the presence and mercy of God for saving him from tight situations.  A glossary is included at the back to help those who may not be familiar with a lot of sailing vocabulary.  Also of interest is the intertwined story of an African-American boy named Ogun, who is about the same age as Ray, and his family as they were escaping slavery in South Carolina up to the point of their meeting in Canada with the Newburyport Beauty and its cargo.  The book will help to make the concepts of slavery and the Underground Railroad very real to young readers.
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