January’s Sparrow

Bibliographic Information: Polacco, Patricia. January’s Sparrow. New York: Philomel Books, 2009. Print.

Brief Annotation: This book tells the true story of a family of slaves – the Crosswhites – who run away to Canada in search of freedom, and stop to stay in Marshall, Michigan on the way. It’s told in the third person, but follows specifically the young daughter of the family, Sadie.

Genre: Historical Fiction (fictionalized accounts of true events)

Grade Level: 5-6

Readers who will like this: Students who like suspense; students who like history, especially those interested in slavery.

Rating/Response: 5 – This is a beautiful, detailed book that makes a real-life story truly come alive. It leaves nothing out, but is still accessible to non-adult readers. I always enjoy Patricia Polacco’s attention to storytelling and illustration, and this book is no exception to that.

One question you would ask before a read aloud: What do you know about the Underground Railroad?

Reading Strategy: Questioning, Social Studies

Rationale for Strategy: This book is an excellent source for students who have had some years of experience learning about slavery in the US. It specifically talks about runaway slaves, the Underground Railroad, and the help along the way. It’s great for asking questions about content and about the elements of the story as well. The lesson can begin with students asking questions about the Underground Railroad experience and keeping track as to whether they’re answered in the story. While reading, students can ask questions specific to the text. After reading, students can ask questions they still have about the Crosswhite family, and about slavery and the Underground Railroad as a whole, which can launch into a unit on slavery, using the Crosswhites as a focus. The book can be graphic at some points (a slave is beaten in the beginning), so I’d use it with older readers. It’s also quite long for a picture book, so I would be sure to set aside a lot of time in one lesson to read it, or read it over two days.

Posted by: Caitlin Miller


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