13. The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad

The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Barbara Greenwood. Illustrated by Heather Collins (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 118
Ages: 8+
Finished: Jan. 22, 2010
First Published: 1998
Genre: children, historical fiction, non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

This is the story of two families who meet in June of 1856.

Acquired: We bought and own this book.

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my son as part of our history studies.

Summary: The story of a slave mother and her two children who escape from a southern plantation to St. Catharines, Canada via the Underground Railroad. The family is split up and the little girl, Eliza, is the first to arrive across the border at the Reids' house and the story concentrates on her and the youngest Reid girl as they spend time together. From Eliza's point of view we see the weight of slavery lift and are told about her past life through flashbacks. From Johanna Reid we see at first jealousy at this girl who is so eager to please, then understanding of what slavery really is. The two girls become friends and Johanna soon comes to realize that even in a 'free' county there are some two-faced people who treat the blacks in town differently. The plot becomes more exciting as slave catchers come on the scene and through different ways the brother and mother finally make it to safety.

Comments: This book is set up exactly like Greenwood & Collins' Pioneer series of books. Between each chapter of the fictional story there is a non-fiction section which digs deeper into the subjects discussed. These sections often refer to the characters in the story and seamlessly join together. Each of these sections also includes an activity though they are less crafty than in previous books by this team. Here we have a few crafts, baking, singing, and storytelling. This is the first time I've read this title and I enjoyed even more than The Pioneer Story. The characters are real and we are shown the story from many different view points: the runaway slaves, the American Underground Railroad conductors, the Canadian freedom helpers, Canadian women and children with racist attitudes, we even see why the slave catchers would cross into Canada and try to take slaves back when they had no rights on this side of the border. Heather Collins' black and white drawings are very detailed and informative. An excellent book that takes you from the slave on the plantation, to the fugitive on the run, and finally to the free black in the city, working and sending their children to school.


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