February 20, 2018

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The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis | SLJ Review

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redstarCURTIS, Christopher Paul. The Journey of Little Charlie. 256p. Scholastic. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545156660.

Gr 5-8 –Oversized like an ox, 12-year-old Charlie Bobo and his sharecropper parents eke out a living on the Tanner Plantation deep in South Carolina in 1858. When an accident takes his father’s life, Charlie and his mother must settle a debt with the plantation’s sadistic overseer, Cap’n Buck. The despicable overseer forces Charlie to accompany him to Detroit to retrieve $4,000 worth of stolen property. Charlie’s journey covers more than miles as he finally realizes the stolen property isn’t material but human. Outside his norm of Southern life, he sees his white privilege and the horrors of people claiming ownership of other people. It truly sickens him, but he feels trapped by his father’s debt. Cap’n Buck and Charlie venture into Canada to capture their last fugitive slave: Sylvanus, a boy just Charlie’s age. When he sees the similarities in their lives despite their different races, Charlie knows he cannot be party to the legal evil of slavery any longer (“I knowed Sylvanus and his ma and pa was gonna be slaves ‘gain. And I knowed it would be my doings that caused it.”). Charlie alters the course of his journey right then, changing his life forever. His choice shows that no matter one’s upbringing—Charlie lived in poverty, racism, and ignorance—a person can choose right. Curtis’s use of dialect lends the story authenticity, though it may slow down less confident readers. The violence of slavery is not shied away from and use of historically accurate, derogatory terms for black people are used. Young readers will benefit from discussion during and after reading. VERDICT A thought-provoking book from a master storyteller.–Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2018 issue.

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