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Follow the Drinking Gourd (Dragonfly Books) Paperback – January 15, 1992

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

PreSchool-Grade 2-- Winter's picture book relates the story of an old white sailor called "Peg Leg Joe" who went from plantation to plantation in the pre-Civil War south, teaching enslaved blacks a folksong that he wrote, the lyrics of which held directions for following the Underground Railroad to freedom. This particular story focuses on the journey of one group of runaways who travel according to the directions of the song to reach the Ohio River, where Peg Leg Joe himself is waiting with a boat. Dramatic full-color paintings and a simple text make this part of U.S. history accessible to young readers. However, its emphasis on the role that white people played in the black flight to freedom make it an unbalanced introduction. "Joe had a plan" appears repeatedly in the text, making it sound as though the idea of escape and freedom originated with him, rather than with the people who were living the horror of slavery. Throughout the story, the people who are escaping are depicted as being wholly dependent on the elements and on the actions of benevolent whites, rather than on their own thoughts, ideas, and decisions. This notion is reinforced in picture after picture, as the faces of the five blacks are wide-eyed with fear while they look for the next sign from Joe to tell them what to do. They never show the expressions of courage and determination that mark the faces of the white characters in this book. Follow the Drinking Gourd is aptly titled in that it presents a history of black Americans as followers, rather than as leaders. --Kathleen T. Horning, Madison Public Library, Wis.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“A fine rendering of history in picture book format.”–Booklist, Starred

“An extraordinary and inspiring tribute to a unique part of African-American
history.”–Boston Globe

“The artist’s hauntingly muted pictures propel the story forward and make
it memorable.”–Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 3 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Lexile Measure: 630L (What's this?)
  • Series: Dragonfly Books
  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Dragonfly Books; Reprint edition (January 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679819975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679819974
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 0.1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: School & Library Binding
I used this book to help fulfill a story project requirement for my Children's Literature class at Kent State University. A partner and I read this book to two second-grade classes, who listened attentively. This version of the story has less text than Bernardine Connelly's version (same title), which made it appropriate for reading aloud within a limited time. The students seemed to enjoy the repetition of the song lyrics throughout. The illustrations are striking, with interesting and unusual color choices. The skin tones of the African-American characters are quite lovely, ranging from mahogany to very dark brown. Bright purples and oranges in the illustrations also stand out. The characters are depicted in a wide range of ages, from "Old Hattie" to "Little Isaiah." We used this book in conjunction with explanations of the Underground Railroad and another book, Barefoot by Pamela Duncan Edwards, as well as poems by African-American poet Langston Hughes. The difficult topics of selling slaves at auction, running away, and the fears the runaways had are sensitively treated. At the end of the book, when freedom is reached and Old Hattie exclaims, "'Five more souls are safe!'" I heard a collective gasp of emotion from the children. These students really seemed to enjoy learning about the Underground Railroad and how slaves escaped their bondage. The fact that we usually call the Drinking Gourd constellation the Big Dipper did take some repeated explanation on the part of the storytellers.
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Format: Paperback
My daughter read this book in her kindergarten class during Black history month and we loved it so much we bought a copy. It is an inspiring story of courage and triumph over adversity. The story is about a slave named Peg Leg Joe who leads other slaves to freedom by teaching them a song instructing them to "Follow the Drinking Gourd". The drinking gourd he refers to is the Big Dipper. Not only is this a great story about the Underground Railroad, it also inspired my daughter's interest in astronomy. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
This fine story teaches even the smallest of children about the evil of slavery in pre-Civil War America. It shows a desire for freedom so strong that men, women and children risked their lives to escape on the Underground Railroad, following the largest star in the Drinking Gourd of the title (The Big Dipper).

The book introduces the idea of slavery, the separation of families, the sale of human beings at auctions, and the difficulties that people endured to escape--hiding in trees to avoid hounds, sleeping by day, sometimes on empty stomachs, and walking at night, sometimes without stars to guide them. Sometimes people along the way were kind, providing bacon and corn bread to share, helping them across the Ohio River, and hiding them in the attics and barns of safe houses.

The story's dramatic simplicity grasps and holds children. They fasten to it, eager to learn about the bonds that once tied African-Americans and the freedom for which they naturally yearned.

The book is a song of freedom.

---Alyssa A. Lappen
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Format: Paperback
I read this book to my 1st grade students to teach them about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. The illustrations were nice and my students caught on that they were really following the constellation (the dipper). I would highly recommend this book. It was THE BEST resource I could find to tie into Black History Month.
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Format: Paperback
I have used this book and video in my music classes for years. After retiring, I lost my book and thought to replace it with this one advertised on Amazon. Please don't waste your money! The pictures in this booklet are so dark, dim, blurry (almost impressionistic), and faded, that I won't be able to share it with my classes (even small groups). One would guess it to be a "knock-off" of the real book. Perhaps the original publisher should be notified. I will now be looking for the original hardback. Again..........don't waste your time or money.
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Format: Paperback
Fact or fiction aside, Follow the Drinking gourd definitely gives a good, brief overview of what escaping to freedom via the Underground Railroad with the help of coded instructions and agents and conductors might have looked and "felt" like.

My reservation with this version is with the introductions and post-story explanations describing Peg Leg Joe as a truly historical figure whom really taught slaves the Follow the Drinking Gourd song and, ultimately, became their link to freedom. I assumed the information to be true as published. Further study, however, showed me that the story behind Follow the Drinking Gourd is most likely not fact, but an American Folk Tale used as a "representation" of how escaping to freedom might have happened. I could not find proof that Peg Leg Joe was a real Underground Railroad agent or conductor, and I also came to find that the lyrics to Follow the Drinking Gourd (as printed in the book) were rewritten by another folk artist to include the chorus, "The old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom if you follow the drinking gourd" some 80+ years after the song was originally written or communicated.

All-in-all, great literature, illustrations that capture the intensity of escaping to freedom, and a "secret code." What more can a kid (or big kid, in my case) ask for?
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