Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Walking Home to Rosie Lee


I haven't encountered many picture books that deal with the aftermath of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, especially something told from a child's point of view. Walking Home to Rosie Lee helps to fill that gap. The narrator, Gabe, tells of his search to find his mother and be reunited with her. He explains that he hasn't seen her since "Master Turner sold her away," but he still remembers how she smelled like jasmine. While others talks about their plans for their futures, he is tracking down rumors of women named Rosie, only to be disappointed again and again. Will he ever find the right Rosie Lee?

As the author's note explains, some of those who searched for family members after the war only found them after months or even years of searching, and others never were found at all. This book just tells what one such search might have been like. It shows some of the situations that may have occurred, such as being snarled at by the cook at the Carter's place, or hearing dogs barking and climbing into a tree for fear of being attacked by them. But it also shows some of the kindness - hugs and meals from strangers, or the offer of a place to spend the night. It strikes a balance to get across the difficulty of the search, but without making it too frightening or dismal for young readers.

The repetitive phrase, "singing songs, telling stories and dream-talking of the lives they're gonna live," adds to the feeling of the search being endless, going through the same motions over and over. The dialect is noticeable without being overly exaggerated or too difficult to understand. Other details of the era such as the Freedman's Bureau or schools for African Americans popping up are worked into the narrative as things that Gabe encounters during his search, while the place names show how far he roamed - Mobile, Chattanooga, Jasper, and Cleveland. 

This would make a good addition to any Civil War/Reconstruction unit in elementary school. It could be used as a read-aloud to introduce a lesson or serve as a mentor text for students writing their own historical fiction pieces from what they have learned during the unit. Classes from East Tennessee would be especially interested due to the locations mentioned towards the end of Gabe's search. They could plot some of his journey on a map and see how close he came to their hometowns. However it is used - either in direct instruction or for self-selected reading, it will be a good addition to the classroom or library resources already on hand.

You may visit the  McBookWords site to read an interview with the book's creators.

The author provided a (PDF) copy of the book so that I could read and review it.

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