From School Library Journal
Grade 5-7-Depression-era rural Mississippi is a good time and place for blacks to keep their heads down and their mouths shut, but Rufus Jackson has been two years working on the chain gang for a car theft he didn't commit, and on his 12th birthday, Abraham Lincoln "Shortning Bread" Jackson decides to get his father back, somehow. One of a large, hardworking sharecropper family, Shortning Bread is enterprising and intelligent, an appreciative butterfly watcher who chews over the ethics of trickery v. open confrontation. Against his better judgment, he develops a secret friendship with Hawk Baker, son of the (white) postmaster. In the end, although Shortning Bread creates a stir by starting a rumor that the FBI is coming to town, it's Hawk's father who actually brings Rufus home. Knowing that his return will inevitably spark "Mississippi chariot"-the old slave code for racial violence-the Jackson family quickly and quietly departs for Chicago. Robinet gives readers a good, long look at how the deck was stacked against African Americans, but she only sketches most of her characters, and the glimmer of light she places at the end of the tunnel is faint indeed.
John Peters, New York Public Library
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 6-10. Life in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s is vividly evoked in this story of 12-year-old Shortning Bread Jackson, whose father has been wrongfully accused and sent to the chain gang. Using every trick and disguise and false rumor he can, the boy plots to get his father released, and in the last few chapters, the family escapes the lynch mob and leaves for Chicago. There's some awkward contrivance in the plot--Shortning conveniently saves a white boy from drowning, and the grateful parents help the Jacksons escape--but the drama is compelling, the trickery both tense and funny. The sense of the sharecroppers' struggle is an integral part of the story. The book title refers to the old hymn "Chariot Coming for to Carry Me Home," a code from slavery days to warn of danger. Daily life is desperate, and white power and bigotry seem overwhelming, but one smart boy's determination sets his family free. Hazel Rochman