Thursday, July 22, 2010

Strange Journey: Booktalk 2

I want to introduce you to a young slave in America in the year 1776: the time of the Revolutionary War. Her name is Isabel, an African-American girl who can read and write, but she wisely keeps this fact to herself. Isabel is 13 years, and she has a sister who is 5 years old, named Ruth. Ruth has special needs, and Isabel sees it as her job to watch out for Ruth and to protect Ruth. Ruth and Isabel are basically all alone in the world. Their mother, also a slave, died of smallpox. Their father, brought over to this country from Africa, is also dead. So the two girls are completely alone.
At one point, Isabel and Ruth had a fair owner who promised them their freedom. Unfortunately, that fair master died, and they changed hands – remember, they’re considered “property,” and got an unfair master who sold them to even worse masters. Basically, they went from the frying pan into the fire, to use a saying. The Locktons, who own them now, are pretty unkind, especially Mrs. Lockton. Before I tell you about Mrs. Lockton, I need to explain that the Locktons are Loyalists – they are on the side of the British, and they don’t want the American colonists to win the war. Back to Mrs. Lockton. She’s such a cruel master that she punishes Isabel inhumanely: she has Isabel branded with the letter “I” on her face. The pain is excruciating, and Isabel almost dies. Nowadays, we consider that a form of torture, and it’s illegal. But in those days, masters could do whatever they chose with their slaves. Luckily, Isabel survives. And also luckily for Isabel, she meets another slave, named Curzon, who becomes her best friend. He recruits her to spy for the Americans. This means spying on her masters, the cruel Locktons. But Mrs. Lockton isn’t done with Isabel. She plans to sell what Isabel holds most near and dear to her heart: Ruth, Isabel’s sister. What would you do if someone sold or tried to sell your sibling? What could you do?
Much of Isabel’s journey has to deal with courage, strength, and survival. If you’re interested in early America, and you want a great read, check out Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

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