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“Never discourage anyone...who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”
Summary: Ella Sheppard was born into slavery on the Hermitage, a plantation once owned by President Andrew Jackson. In 1855, Ella's father Simon bought her freedom. Although they led significantly impoverished lives, Simon wanted Ella to go to school. Her journey was not easy. When she learned about Fisk Free Colored School, Ella knew she wanted to go there. In 1868, she became a Fisk student after offering to trade work for tuition. Turns out, Ella wasn't the only one struggling. By 1871, Fisk was bankrupt and getting ready to close its doors. The school's choir, the Jubilee Singers, became its principle fundraisers. A concert tour that followed the Underground Railroad, ultimately took them to New York, Great Britain, and throughout Europe. This illustrated nonfiction book is a biography that also offers US, African American, and music history
Type of Reading: family reading, independent reading
Recommended Age: read together: 10 to 13; read yourself: 11 to 16
Interest Level: 10 to 16
Reading Level: 5.6
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: I enjoyed this fascinating story about Ella, the Jubilees, and the time in which they lived. Combining sidebars with specific historical content and lyrics from songs performed by the Jubilees, helped the reader get a more complete feel of life in the 1850s. The book almost begs to have a CD of their performance(s) and/or music to accompany reading. There were times, however, when the extra information distracted from the story.
Pros: Middle school readers will find this an enlightening, interesting book that rounds out classroom learning. This slim book offers biography, slave and post-Civil War history, and musical history. Overall, it is a well-balanced presentation of horrible events but not so gruesome as to scare readers
Cons: The number of insets and sidebars can be distracting. This is also true of the bold first paragraph / first page of most chapters. There is no clear explanation of is purpose.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow. Very engaging and worth reading, but not one you're likely to want for your home library.
Educational Themes: There are several ways to build out this story. First, create a playlist from the songs and lyrics featured throughout the book. Grab a map and plot the Jubilees' tour route (taking note of the kinds of transportation they had to use). Another option is to use the sidebars to create a timeline of key events that affected the lives of Ella and other freed slaves, as well as the Jubilees' success.