CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009
Fans of the “Dear Canada” series will be thrilled that a new title is available. A Desperate Road to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson makes an impressive addition to these popular fictional historical diaries for nine- to thirteen-year-olds. Not only does Karleen Bradford’s story provide a long needed supplement - or even replacement - for Barbara Smucker’s now-classic Underground to Canada, it also provides a gripping read, period. Any reader, of any age or background, reading for any purpose at all, will surely be unable to put this book down. It is a work of outstanding excellence.
Bradford wields the notoriously difficult diary form effortlessly, overcoming such potential stumbling blocks as plausibility in relation to historical accuracy, reiteration of dialogue, and even issues of spelling, with ingenuity and grace. Her protagonist, Julia May, a gifted, determined learner and spirited girl who is also charmingly tenderhearted towards her family and friends, provides a hook that draws in readers from the first page right through to the last. Julia May is such an interesting character that her domestic interactions alone would provide a compelling narrative; in combination with a pitch perfect plot that follows her harrowing escape from slavery in Virginia, her adjustment to a new life in Toronto, and finally her challenging relocation to Owen Sound, Julia May’s story becomes a page-turner. But this is not the stuff of romance and fancy: Bradford’s meticulous research, as well as the inspiration of her own ancestors’ real experiences, is abundantly evident throughout. Although Julia May was not a real person, she very well could have been. This, in conjunction with her irresistible, endearing nature, provide an effective way to build readers’ understanding of and empathy for African American slaves of this period, driving home a still-current message about universal human rights.
Michelle Superle teaches children’s literature, composition, and creative writing at the University of the Fraser Valley.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.