Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
Chasing the Nightbird

Chasing the Nightbird

Fall 2011 Historical Fiction
Ages: 10 - 14 yrs.
Author: Krista Russell
ISBN: 9781561455973
Hardcover Price: $15.95

Lucky Valera is determined to get back to his whaling ship, no matter what it takes. But since his half-brother Fortuna kidnapped him off the docks and forced him to work in the mills of New Bedford, nobody on the docks will give him a berth; they're all frightened that Fortuna will set the law on them for shipping an under-aged sailor. Lucky didn't even know he had a half-brother. Pa never mentioned him. But Fortuna is furious with their father, and determined to get back some of his inheritance by stealing all of Lucky's property and taking his wages. Lucky seems to have no choice but to work in the hateful mill amid the noise and the dust, away from his beloved sea.

As the days go by, Lucky begins learning more about the landlubbers' of New Bedford. Daniel, his only friend at the mill, has escaped from a Georgia plantation, and he's terrified of being picked up as a fugitive and sold back into slavery. Lucky's other new friend, the Quaker abolitionist Emmeline, seems to think Lucky's in danger of being picked up and sold himself. Emmeline believes Cape Verdeans have something in common with African American slaves down South, and Lucky can't seem to convince her that he has no interest in fighting for her cause. When Lucky is fired from the mill and slave catchers come to New Bedford, however, he discovers that helping others escape may be the best way to help himself, too.

There is no lack of stories about the antebellum United States. Nevertheless, Russell's book provides an interesting glimpse of the intersection between the whaling commerce of New England and the roiling national disturbances caused by the Fugitive Slave Law. Lucky is an engaging guide to this world, both knowing and innocent, as he explains the "Whalemen's Commandments" to his landlubber readers and simultaneously learns about the horrors of slavery. Russell's prose and plot construction are sometimes clunky, but there is plenty of adventure, friendship, and well-researched period detail to satisfy young history buffs.

Naomi Lesley   ©2011 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

Look for this product at:
Peachtree Publishers

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