Saturday, January 17, 2009

Freedom To Be Had: Night Running by Elisa Carbone

James has made up his mind to run, to leave Master Graham's Virginia farm and his hound dog Zeus behind. Zeus is his hunting buddy, but he's too noisy, too fidgety and too quick to bay and bark at any sound to risk taking along.

Confiding in his friend Levi and urging him to come along, by the full moon James steals to their meeting place, only to find his master's men ready to seize him. Waiting for Master Graham's judgment until morning, his drunken guards fall asleep, and with Zeus' help, James frees himself from the ropes which bind him to a stool and makes his escape.

But Zeus is too noisy a traveling companion for a boy who is sure to be followed by slave hunters, and at one point James almost brings himself to club Zeus to death to protect his own life. Then the slave catchers' hounds are heard baying on their trail, and Zeus and James join together to kill the pursuing hounds and keep on running.

For five nights James and Zeus run north, with Zeus' hunting skills feeding them by day, until at last they reach the Ohio River. Unable to swim, James finds a dilapidated canoe, and knowing that it will not float both himself and the dog, he bids his faithful friend good-bye.

"You been a good dog, Zeus," he said, "better than I knew a dog could be." He sniffed and wiped his nose with Zeus' ear.

"Now you be free on this side of the river, and I'll be free on the other side."

But as the old canoe begins to sink, Zeus, who has been swimming behind, comes forward to pull James safely to the Ohio side of the river. Reviving onshore, James is fortunately found by a Quaker farmer, who takes in both the runaway and his skinny hound dog. There the two find a home where Zeus happily lives out his life with James.

While doing extensive research on her acclaimed novel Stealing Freedom, Carbone discovered the true story of James Smith, the main character of Night Running: How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful Dog. Her author's note tells the full story of James, who went on to educate himself, buy a farm in Ohio, and following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, again fleeing Master Graham's slave catchers to make his home in Canada, where he lived and served as a minister, always remembering to tell the story of the faithful dog who made his free life possible.

For Black History Month or anytime, this exciting true adventure, beautifully illustrated by E. B. Lewis, provides an exceptional medium to introduce elementary students to the realities of slave life and the Underground Railroad in American history.

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