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Saturday, June 25, 2016

BY FREEDOM'S LIGHT by Elizabeth O'Maley

Set in Eastern Indiana in 1842, this short novel does a great job of talking about slavery for a grades 4-6 audience.

The Caldwell family has recently moved to Indiana from North Carolina. They are Quakers. Nowadays, Quakers are famous for their anti-slavery stand and participation in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. But, in reality, the Quakers are split in two groups. All are anti-slavery but some believe that you should not break the law by helping runaway slaves. Others believe that helping people in need trumps the law.

The Caldwell family embodies this split. Sarah, age 13, is anti-abolitionist and is quite sure her father is as well. However, her new young stepmother is certainly an abolitionist. She is close with Levi and Catharine Coffin, two of the most famous members of the Underground Railroad network who live in Newport, Indiana (now called Fountain City) and Sarah witnesses her helping a runaway slave. Sarah is sure that her father is anti-abolitionist and throughout the book seeks an opportunity to discuss her stepmothers abolitionist ways with him.

In the middle of this family dynamic comes Sarah's sister, Rachel, with her husband and newborn baby. They bring along the baby's nursemaid, a teenage slave named Polly.

The Levi Coffin House. Nowadays it is a museum and
a historic site.
As Sarah and Polly come to know one another they also become friends. Sarah's theoretical views on slavery crash into the reality that her friend is a slave and does not control her own life. Her mother-in-law's comment strikes home when she notes, "I don't doubt Rachel and George treat her kindly...but kindness is no substitute for freedom." (p. 70)

What I like about this book is that teaches without being preachy. My daughter's fourth grade teacher used this book in her Indiana history class this year and I can certainly see why. You can move into the topic of slavery from a non-traditional starting point (which you would have to do in Indiana since it was a free state) and easily talk about larger issues like what do you do if doing the right thing is illegal?

The text of the book is 172 pages, including pictures and maps. In addition, the book also has a glossary and a bibliography.

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: By Freedom's Light.

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