From School Library Journal
Grade 4–8—Joseph, son of Harriet Jacobs from Letters from a Slave Girl
(S & S, 1992), writes to various relatives and acquaintances, sharing thoughts and events of his life as a slave from 1839 to 1860. The "letters" are written primarily as a journal. They begin when Joseph is nine years old, and a plantation owner's son is "teeching" him how to "rite." Although his life in his free great-grandmother's house is better than that of most slaves, he is always aware of his status. Escaping North Carolina, Joseph makes his way first to Boston and then to New Bedford, MA, where he boards a whaling ship. Later he travels to the gold fields of California. He is willing to do anything to earn freedom money for his family-even "pass" for white. However, Joseph's lack of financial acuity, his gambling, and, of course, his color make him easy prey, and he fails to save the needed funds. Despite this, he remains optimistic in his final letter as he sets sail for a better life in Australia. The "letters" are short and the pace is quick. The dialect and spelling give authenticity without making the text difficult to read and understand. Notes by the author explain that most events are fictionalized because little information is known about the real Joseph. Historical data supports the fiction. A reproduction of Joseph's protection paper issued in July 1846, photographs, and drawings from the time period are included. This title stands on its own, but children who appreciated the forthright perspective of the first book will want to read this one as well.—Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
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This companion book to Lyons' Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs
(1992) tells what happened to Harriet's son, Joseph. After a very effective introduction brings readers up to speed, the story begins in 1839. Nine-year-old Joseph, living in North Carolina, begins a series of letters, addressed initially to his mother but later to others as well; his writings serve as a reflective first-person narrative. Over the next 14 years, he escapes to Boston, works on a whaling ship, and travels to New York and, later, California. There are inevitably loose ends that might have been tied more neatly in a work of pure imagination, but if close ties to a historical record limit the shape of this, they also bolster its emotional truth as when Harriet expresses her fear that her half-white children will not be accepted in their community of freed slaves or when Joseph hears that the Fugitive Slave Act has been passed in California, where he expected to find freedom. In an illustrated note, Lyons reflects on her research and writing, as well as providing a glossary of period racial slurs and lists of suggested books. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved