Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Monday
After a bit of time off to read and spend time with the family over March Break we are back and refreshed and desperate for a little of the spring warmth to creep in.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis is an incredibly powerful middle grade novel. Set in South Carolina in 1858, this is the story of Little Charlie Bobo, son of Big Charlie Bobo, sharecropper and labourer who has recently met an untimely end thanks to a rock and an axe. When Cap’n Buck, the overseerer on the Tanner Plantation, hears of Big Charlie’s death he comes to collect the debt he’s owed. This sets Little Charlie off on a journey of survival, discovery, and heroism. In a journey that takes them from the swamps of South Carolina, to the streets of Detroit, and across the Detroit River to Windsor and Saint Catherines, Ontario, Canada, Cap’n Buck and Charlie are in pursuit of thieves who stole from Mr. Tanner.
The Journey of Little Charlie is written in Charlie’s voice, the voice of a boy from the Carolina’s before the turn of the last century. It took the first chapter to get used to the colloquialisms but once I got into it I was transported back to a terrible and tumultuous time in North American history; when big plantation owners sent slave catchers up to Canada to steal free black men, women, and children and take them back to work on the plantation. To a time when these same people had to show papers to prove they were free and even that wasn’t enough. A fantastic middle grade read for an introduction into African American history. Christopher Paul Curtis is an incredible storyteller taking the reader into the heart of Little Charlie. One of my favourite things to do after I'm done reading a book is to turn to the back and read the acknowledgments and information included by the author about how the story came to be. It’s so fascinating to read how the story changes and evolves during the writing and editing process.
One aspect of the story is how Little Charlie is really a product of his environment and Curtis forces us to examine how our environment affects our biases and our actions. On Little Charlie's journey he begins to examine his beliefs and the reasoning behind his beliefs. He begins to question all of the things he has been told since birth about plantation owners, sharecroppers, and slaves. He slowly begins to realize the errors in his thinking and perhaps even try and do the right thing instead of the expected thing. He forces us, the readers, to look inward and ask ourselves “What would we do if placed in the same position as Little Charlie?” I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and would put The Journey of Little Charlie at the top of my must read historical fiction list.