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Summary: Robert Smalls was born and raised in the slave quarters on the McKee plantation in Beaufort, South Carolina. He served as a house servant and then, at age 12, Mr. McKee sent him to work in Charleston. He worked at a local hotel, but he fell in love with the waterfront. He convinced Mr. McKee to let him change "careers" and he started working on the docks. Before long, he was an apprentice wheelman, the title for colored boat pilots in the South. Ultimately, his skill as boat handler and knowledge of harbor practices offered the means of escape. Mr. Smalls, his family, the crew, and their families waited patiently for their opportunity. In May 1862 that moment came and he did not hesitate. He captained the Planter and headed north. This picture book tells the story of a slave who escaped during the Civil War.
Type of Reading: independent reading, family reading, read aloud book, reluctant reader
Recommended Age: read together: 6 to 10; read yourself: 10 to 13
Interest Level: 7 to 13
Reading Level: 5.7
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: This is a fascinating biography. The author does an exceptional job offering setting the context of the pre-Civil War South. Slavery is ever-present, but it is secondary to the story of Mr. Small's life and accomplishments. This is a man whose accomplishments are not known widely enough. This book should be in every elementary school!
Pros: This is nonfiction for kids at its best. There are myriad historical details, but they are woven into a story that celebrates the achievements of a fascinating man of great accomplishment.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. This is a story that every child should know about.
Educational Themes: This nonfiction picture book can be shared at home or school, with young children or elementary students. It is a good basic story for introducing the Civil War and it is equally valuable as a supplemental story to connect kids with specific individuals.
Literary Categories: Nonfiction - picture book, biography, US history, War, middle grade, 1800s