Book Review – Sounder

Welcome back! This week I’m going to be featuring another book review. I read this short, but impactful book a couple months ago for school, and absolutely loved it. So I’m here today to share it with you!

sounder

Statistics:

Author: William H. Armstrong

Published in: 1969

Genre: Children’s Fiction

PoV: Third Person

Number of Pages: 116

A boy, his father, and a dog. Their lives are entwined together in the Deep South, their ties of family and home and the longing for something better are the common threads that weaves their story together. Their story is one showing the strength of love, the strength of hate, and the strength of hope. Their story is one of injustice, one showing the cruelty of prejudice. Their story is one of hope for a better life and the strength to go on. Their story is beautiful. Their story is heart-breaking. And it is told in ‘Sounder’.

‘Sounder’ was a terribly beautiful book that made me want to cry with sorrow, to shout with anger, and to hug the beautiful pathos of the words close to my heart. It gave a clear insight into the lives of a poor black family struggling to survive in a world that was so prejudiced against them. It showed the depths that prejudice ran in the South, and how it so cruelly affected every black person. It showed how unfair the judicial system was, and how discriminating and horrible people were towards blacks. But it also showed the beauty of love that was so bright against the dark background of hate. It showed the strength of the bond that a family has, and particularly the strength of a bond between a boy and his father. It showed that even though hate and darkness seems to be prevailing, there is always goodness and light struggling to break through. The light of love, the light of family, the light of learning. And ultimately light overcomes the darkness.

I came away from reading ‘Sounder’ feeling sobered and very grateful that I don’t have to live in a society that is so prejudiced against me. I came away feeling affected by the beauty of the story that William H. Armstrong wove together with strands of stunning words. I came away feeling encouraged by the message that was shown – that love and hope will ultimately win over darkness and despair. I am giving ‘Sounder’ a solid 9 ********* out of 10 and recommending it for ages 13+.

That’s that for this week. See you back here next Saturday!

 

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Short Story – Follow the Drinking Gourd

Well hello again! Another Saturday has rolled around again, so that means it’s time for another blog post! This week has been chock full of fun for me. We have family visiting from the US, and we’ve been going on lots of adventures. The most recent one was a trip to London yesterday. We managed to pack in a LOT in just 9 hours: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the National Art Gallery, 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, and a boat ride up the river Thames. London is really such a captivating and beautiful city!

So, this week’s post is a short story. It was actually an assignment that I had for my American Literature class a few weeks back. I had to write an empathetic research paper on a folk song from American history. Now I love writing stories, and I love history, so this was a great paper to write. I really enjoyed the process! This short story is based off of the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ – a song about the Underground Railroad. For any of you who don’t know, this was a secret organisation (that peaked during the 1850s) that helped slaves escape from their plantations down South to free land up North. I find this period of time absolutely fascinating, and I loved researching and writing this story. I hope you enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂

URSAS.TIF

Follow the Drinking Gourd

“Remember chile’, it be a secret.” Mama told me. “You cain’t tell nobody.”

“Why not, Mama?” I asked, looking up at her face that shone like polished ebony in the dim moonlight.

“Because it be the secret that will take us to freedom one day. And that be the most precious secret of all.”

It was on that dark night, surrounded by the whine and whir of mosquitoes and crickets that Mama told me. I remember we were sitting on the steps of our ramshackle cabin, looking up at the stars. Mama pointed out the pictures that filled the heavens, tracing them out with her finger while her soft voice told me their stories. She talked and I listened, and we both relished the company together after a long day’s work in the fields.[1]

Then she went quiet, and when she spoke again, her voice had a new sound to it – a strong and serious tone. “John-boy” she said. “You see this picture?” She traced the path of a strange shape. “That there’s the drinking gourd.”[2] Following her finger, I could see the gourd in the sky, like a pattern held in place with diamond pins.

“Yeah, I see it, Mama.”

“Now if you follow the line from the edge of the gourd, straight up, you come to that especially bright star. See it?”

“Uh-huh.” I replied, squinting to make the picture clearer.

“That’s the North Star. If’n you follow it, it’ll guide you up North to freedom.[3]

“Freedom?” I echoed, hardly understanding. “Yes honey. Freedom. An’ one day me an’ you are gonna follow that the drinking gourd to freedom.”

*

The next evening, we were squatted together in the stuffy gloom of our cabin. She was busy scrubbing out the iron pot that had held our evening meal of corn pone, salt pork and greens.[4] I was beside her, trying the mend the handle of our only piggin[5] with some twine. I was busy mulling over the strange thought of freedom that Mama had brought up the previous night.

“Mama?” I asked.

“Uh-huh?”

“How we gonna git to freedom?”

“Hush chile, not so loud.” She admonished me. “There’ll be trouble if anyone hears ‘bout this talk of freedom.” Her eyes rolled white in the dim light as she looked around, making certain there wasn’t anyone within hearing range. When she was satisfied that we were alone, she began to talk in a low voice. “Well chile, you know there are people who hate slavery up North. Free black people and some white folks will do anything to stop it.[6] If’n we can jest git across the Ohio River to the Northern states[7], there’ll be those people that do whatever they have to do, jest to help us runaway slaves.”[8]

“Then what, Mama?”

“There be them good folks that will help us. They kin guide us to the Promised Land.[9] To Freedom.”

“When we goin’?” I asked.

“As soon as the timing is right. And until then we gonna trust in the Good Lord, and we gonna pray. Massa Jesus hears our prayers, and one day he gonna answer them.”[10]

*

The days passed by in monotonous rhythm of heat and labour. Mama and I worked side by side[11] in the cotton fields[12], the sun scorching down on our ragged, oft-mended clothes.[13] Only Sunday served to break up the drudgery and toil.[14]

One Sunday, Mama and I again sat on our cabin steps. She was mending my only spare shirt, and I was busily occupied in scratching chiggers[15] and thinking about freedom, again.

“Mama. I’ve been thinkin’.” I said eventually. “What happens if’n we get caught?” Mama’s head snapped up, and a warning glint came into her eyes.

“John-boy… don’t talk so loud. Remember it’s a secret.”

“I know, but there ain’t anyone near to hear anythin’.” I gestured at the dusty and deserted yard in front of our small cabin. “So, what happens?” I asked again. Worry clouded her eyes, and she shook her head.

“I jest ain’t gonna think about that.” She finally said. “I jest ain’t. I’m gonna do my best and pray to Jesus, and jest hope we make it. Because I cain’t face havin’ you live a slave for the rest of yo’ life, let alone face it myself for the rest of my life. We just gotta get to freedom.” Her voice rose in intensity, just like that night under the stars. “I cain’t havin’ you livin’ like this, never knowing how to read or write[16], never knowin’ when you might get sold away like yo’ Daddy,[17] never knowin’ even jest how old you are.[18] You’re the only chile I got left, all my other babies died[19] or were torn out of my arms by slave massas. And I ain’t gonna let that happen to you!” Her voice was thick with tears.

“But Mama, I heard that if massas ketches their runaway slaves they whip ‘em or worse![20]

“I know.” she said. “But that ain’t gonna stop me.” Tears glistened in her eyes and made tracks down her careworn face. “I’m gonna follow the hope of freedom until I reach the Promised Land. And I’m gonna take you with me, John-boy.” She reached over and grabbed my hand, and squeezed it hard. “One day soon, me and you are gonna follow the drinking gourd all the way to Freedom!”

*

It’s been weeks since that first night under the stars. Mama and I, we keep on working, day after day. Sometimes I feel like there ain’t no hope, that we’re gonna be slaves forever. It’s easy to feel hopeless when the sun is beating down on your head, and the overseer’s whip lashes too often on your raw back.

But when evening comes, Mama and I sit out under the stars, and dream of freedom. I trace the path of the drinking gourd with my finger, and hope wells up again in my heart. I just know that one day we’re gonna follow that drinking gourd up North to freedom. And I know that one day, Mama and I will be free.

 

Postscript: Why I Chose to End the Story Here

I know that ending this story here may seem odd. But there are two valid reasons why I chose to end the story with John-boy and his mother still in slavery.

  1. Historical accuracy of the song: This story was based off of the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’. Popular folk myths say that this song was written by an abolitionist before the Civil War, and used to help slaves escape to freedom by giving them a verbal map to follow. This is actually not the case. Evidence shows that this song was most likely written much later than the Civil War, probably around 1947. And on the small chance that this song was around during the Underground Railroad era, it would not contained all the geographical information that it now does. That would’ve been added much later, during the aforementioned 1940s. Thus, though it would’ve been nice, I could not have written a story with slaves using the song to help them escape to freedom. It simply is just not historically accurate. However, the inspiration for the song certainly would’ve been around during the Underground Railroad era. As my notes have shown, slaves did call the Big Dipper the ‘Drinking Gourd’, and they did use it to help them find their way North. So while the song and its geographical contents most likely did not exist, the inspiration for the song definitely did.
  2. Historical accuracy about escaping slaves: Though it is not nice to think about, there is also the very blatant fact that the majority of slaves stayed slaves their whole life. Only about 50,000 slaves out of the estimated 4 million successfully escaped North to freedom with the Underground Railroad. That left a huge majority of slaves that lived their entire lives under the bondage of slavery. A huge majority of slaves that never saw freedom, or became free themselves. This is a sad, but true fact. I wanted to reflect that truth in my story, and I chose to do that by leaving the ending the way I did. The hope of freedom was harboured in many a slave’s heart, but the reality of freedom for them was quite rare. We know some of the stories of the lucky ones that did escape, but many thousands of stories of the slaves that remained in bondage still are unknown to us. Yes, we know many facts about the institute of slavery itself, but the stories of so many individuals ensnared in that institute will remain a mystery to us. I hope that through this story I will have given a little glimpse into the life of few of those thousands that were enslaved. I also hope that you will come away from reading this with a sense of gratitude for our own freedom, and a sense of respect for the power of hope. Because hope is ultimately what this story is about. The hope that the slaves harboured of a new and better life. And the hope of the thing they all longed for – the hope of freedom.

Footnotes:

[1] Slaves worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset.

[2] To slaves, the Big Dipper was known as the Drinking Gourd.

[3] Two of the stars in the Big Dipper line up very closely with and point to Polaris. Polaris is a circumpolar star, and so it is always seen pretty close to the direction of true north. Thus, if you follow the direction of Polaris, you will be heading pretty straight north.

[4] Weekly food rations for slaves were usually corn meal, lard, some meat, molasses, peas, greens, and flour, and were distributed every Saturday.

[5] A piggin was a small cedar bucket used for carrying water.

[6] The Underground Railroad was predominantly run by free Northern African Americans.

[7] The Underground Railroad was primarily a Northern phenomenon. It operated mainly in the Free States, though there was some organized assistance in Washington DC and some of the upper slave states.

[8] The people that operated the Underground Railroad hid slaves in many different places – homes, shops, churches, schools, and barns. Some put slaves on boats or trains, some led them on foot. All offered food, clothing, shoes, and a compassionate heart that passionately believed in the evil of slavery.

[9] At the end of the Underground Railroad line was the ‘promised land’, which was free land either in the Northern states, or more likely in Canada.

[10] Slaves found in Christianity a faith that gave them hope in an oppressive world.

[11] Between the ages of 7-12, slave children were put to work in intensive field work.

[12] Crops cultivated on antebellum plantations mainly included cotton, tobacco, sugar, indigo and rice.

[13] Slave clothing was distributed by the master, usually only once a year and most often at Christmastime, and was apportioned according sex and age as well as to the labour performed by its wearer. The slave had to do with what they had for the whole year until the next annual clothes distributing.

[14] Slaves worked 6 days a week, having only the Sabbath off.

[15] A chigger is an insect (officially known as the Trombiculidae mite) that bites humans during their larval stage. The bite causes intense itching, and often, dermatitis. The word chigger is of West African origin that was brought over by the slaves.

[16] It was illegal to teach slaves to read and write.

[17] The most conservative estimates say that at least 10 to 20 percent of slave marriages were destroyed by sale. The sale of slave children from parents was even more common. As a result, over one 1/3 of slave children grew up with one or both parents absent.

[18] Normally slaves did not know how old they were. This was one of the ways that the slave masters kept their slaves in submission under them.

[19] Over ½ of all slave infants died during their first year of life.

[20] Any runaway slaves that were caught could face harsh punishments such as whippings, brandings, amputation of limbs, and sale down to the Deep South.

Poem – Hearts and Heels

Well here I am again – another Saturday and another poem! This week’s poem is one of the first poems I ever wrote, back in February. The idea for it came to me randomly in bed one night, and the next morning I wrote it out. (Brain-storming in bed is a pretty great way to get ideas, I’ve found :D) The central truth that it is based around is the fact that people who are hurt by others often will hurt others in return. Broken people often break others. But instead of me telling you about it, I’ll just let it speak for itself!

Hearts and Heels

a heel comes down

on a fragile vase

for a brief moment

it gives a weak resistance

then shatters

under the weight of the heel

the shattered pieces sparkle

bathed in sunlight

but when

the heel comes down again

expecting another failed resistance

it instead encounters

sharp shards

that pierce

and draw blood.

whole, the vase is beautiful

but weak

shattered, the vase harms

and pierces

broken things

can fight back too.

words rain down

on a fragile heart

for a brief moment

it gives a weak resistance

then shatters

under the cruelty of the words

the shattered pieces sparkle

bathed in tears

but when

the words rain down again

expecting another failed resistance

they instead encounter

sharp shards

that pierce

and draw blood

whole, the heart is beautiful

but weak

shattered, the heart harms

and pierces.

broken things

can fight back too

Bonus Post! Awesome Blogger Award

Processed with Rookie Cam

Thanks to Cora for nominating me for the Awesome Blogger Award! Check her blog out at Cora’s Bits and Pieces.

Created by Maggie

This is an award for the absolutely wonderful writers all across the blogging world. They have beautiful blogs, are kind and lovely, and always find a way to add happiness and laughter to the lives of their readers. That is what truly defines an awesome blogger.

The RULES:

Thank the person who nominated you.

Include the reason behind the award.

Include the banner in your post.

Tag it under #awesomebloggeraward in the Reader.

Answer the questions your nominator gave you.

Nominate at least 5 awesome bloggers.

Give your nominees 10 new questions to answer.

Let your nominees know that they’ve been nominated!

The questions:

  1. What’s your favorite food? – Ummmm…. just one food? That’s practically impossible. 😀 Can we go for a whole meal? But even then, that’s really hard… I’m just going to say chicken enchiladas. Because I really like those!
  2. What’s your favorite part about blogging? – The writing! I love writing, and I love sharing my writing. So blogging is a great combo!
  3. What’s your least favorite part about blogging? – Well, I haven’t even been blogging for a month yet, so I can’t really say I have anything I don’t like yet. Everything is still new and shiny and fun!
  4. Cats or Dogs? – Dogs, just marginally. They’re bouncy and loving and fun! (They have to be big dogs like Labs or Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds. No yappy little things for me, thank you :D) (No offence to owners of small dogs. They just aren’t for me) Though cats seem that they would be great writing buddies, as they just sit around and purr a lot. But then I’ve never owned either as a pet, so I can’t really say for sure…
  5. Do you like fiction or non-fiction books better? – Definitely fiction. I just love stories and all they contain! Though I am trying to widen my horizons and read more non-fiction…
  6. Do you write any fiction? – Yes, I do! That is actually primarily what I write. My current main story is about a girl growing up during the American Civil War, and it will probably feature on here at some point.
  7. Would you rather be inside or outside (generally)? – Ohhh, another hard one. It really depends on the weather. If it’s a gloriously sunny day, I love being outside! But if it’s rainy or dull, then I’d much rather be inside with a good book. Actually, as long as I have a book, I don’t really mind if I’m outside or inside. 😀
  8. Android or Apple? – Well, I don’t have a phone, so that kinda knocks this question out. But I do use our family iPad quite a bit, as well as our family iMac desktop. (I’m writing this post on it right now, actually!) So I’ll just say Apple, since that’s what I use the most.
  9. Favorite blog post ever (your post)? – Again, I’m a newbie at blogging! This will only have been my 5th post. 😀 So I can’t really judge accurately yet. But I do have to say that my last post with my favourite books I read in May was really fun to write!
  10. What’s your favorite girls name? – Oh dear, now you’ve opened a floodgate. So you probably don’t know this, but I am a self-proclaimed name nerd. Seriously. I love names!! I have a whole word document dedicated to my favourite names, and I’m always adding to it. So this question is great fun, but practically impossible to answer :D. I’m going to cheat a bit, and say my top 5 girls names, because I simply can’t narrow it down to 1! And my top 5 would have to be: Arielle, Avonlea, Jayda, Quincy/Quinn, and Zaylee. As you can probably tell, I have a rather eclectic/funky naming-style. 😀 But I really do love those names!

Thank you Cora for those questions, they were really fun!

So now for my 5 nominees for this Awesome Blogger Award. I nominate:

Naomi Sarah from Wonderland Creek

Heather from Jeans and Dresses

Lydia from Noveltea 

Julia from The Barefoot Gal

Emma Jane from Truth and Tailgates

And my questions are:

  1. Why did you start your blog?
  2. What is your favourite part of blogging?
  3. Would you rather have a few loyal commenters or lots of silent followers?
  4. What is your favourite childhood memory?
  5. What is your favourite topic to write about?
  6. Funniest moment of the week?
  7. What is your favourite word and why?
  8. Who is your favourite fictional character?
  9. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
  10. Who/what inspires you the most?

Right, there we go! See you back here on Saturday!

Top 5 Books – May 2017

Wow, how is it already June?! Seriously, we’re halfway through 2017! :O I feel like I’m still somewhere back in March… 😀

This week I am going to be highlighting the top 5 books that I read in May. Kinda like mini-reviews for my favourite books of the month. If you guys like it, I may make it a regular (monthly :D) occurrence. So, without further ado, let’s get onto the reviews!

tce

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years – By Jaquelle Crowe

Literally what the title says: how the Gospel totally changes and transforms teenagers.

Oh boy. This book is seriously amazingly transformative. If I could get every teenager to read one book, this one would be it. It has the potential to be life-changing!! Jaquelle is a very talented writer, and her heart for teenagers comes through so clearly through her writing. Each chapter deals with a different thing that the Gospel changes in a teen’s life (e.g. – the church, relationships, time, spiritual disciplines, etc.) I was so encouraged and motivated and challenged as I read this book, and I will definitely be re-reading it. I SO recommend it! If you are a teenager, if you know a teenager, if you will soon be a teenager, get this book and read it and then pass it on to others!!! It could be life-changing! This is most definitely a 10* book.

f451

Fahrenheit 451 – by Ray Bradbury

Imagine a world where books are banned, and where firefighters start fires instead of putting them out. And then imagine it’s our world.

I read this book for school, and was very, very surprised by it. First of all, the writing is absolutely beautiful. The way Bradbury paints a picture with his words is… just wow. As an aspiring writer myself, I found a lot to chew over in terms of style. And then there is the story. The story was… I’m not even sure how to describe it. I suppose it’s about book burning and censorship. But it’s about so much more than that. I was very surprised by how much I loved this book (especially considering that it’s futuristic/sci-fi fiction, and I literally never go for that genre). It made me think very deeply about some really important issues. It also sobered me. Because the picture of the futuristic world that  Bradbury paints is one that I can actually see growing in our world today. One totally immersed in the ‘now moment’, in technology, and in entertainment. A world that is caring increasingly less about books and history and relationships. And that is scary. So yes, go read this book, and be prepared to be sobered and surprised by the beauty and the truth contained in it. This is definitely a 9* book.

evidence for Jesus

Evidence for Jesus: Discover the Facts that Prove the Truth of the Bible – by Ralph O. Muncaster

Jesus was real, and Jesus was God. The Bible is historically accurate. There is no doubt about it. And this book succinctly proves it.

I also read this book for school, and again was very happily surprised by it! Muncaster clearly and succinctly lays out truth-filled answers to many questions about Jesus posed by skeptics. He draws from historical documents to prove that yes, Jesus did exist, yes, he did rise from the dead, yes, the Bible is an accurate historical document, and to go even further, yes, Jesus is God.  I found his writing very easy to read, follow and understand. I came away from this book feeling like I’d learnt a huge amount, as well as feeling very encouraged in my faith. It’s so good to get reminders that what we believe in is true and accurate and can stand up to questioning and research! In my opinion, this book is definitely a 9* book.

p&p

Pride and Prejudice – by Jane Austen

Apparently the ultimate romantic classic. It certainly has enough romance in it, and it’s not exactly the type you would imagine either. Oh, and it’s hilarious.

Believe it or not, this was my first foray into the world of Austen! However, I went in with high expectations, and came out with them not quite fulfilled. You see, you hear so much about this book, so much hype and drama and swooning, and I went in expecting to come out a die-hard Jane Austen fan. But I’m not. I’m a fan of her writing, but not a hugely-crazily-in-love-fan. Just a fan. That said, I really did enjoy this book. It was complex, but each ‘mini-plot’ helped to bring about the culmination of the main ‘big-plot’.  And it was also really funny! That was not something I was expecting of a book that was published in 1813! I suppose I would classify this book as ‘unexpected’. Some expectations that I had were unfulfilled, and some parts of the book I totally didn’t expect, but I liked! But overall it was a good book, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Austen in the future. I’m giving P&P definitely 7* and just about 8*. So we’ll leave it at 8*. 😀

worldliness

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World – edited by C.J. Mahaney

Only through the power of the cross can we resist the seduction of a fallen world. A powerful Christ-centred look at engaging the world and worldliness.

 My dear friend sent this to me for a late birthday present, and I devoured it in the course of about 3 days. And I was just so encouraged by it! This book is a look at worldliness, and how Christians should interact with it. I think it’s really aimed more for adults, or even pastors, but this 16 yr old home-edder sure enjoyed it and gleaned a lot of wisdom from it! Each chapter is by a different author, and deals with a different subject: e.g. God, my Heart and Media/and Stuff/and Clothes. I think that each one may have been a sermon that has been put into chapter-form, but I’m not sure on that one so don’t quote me. It’s all edited by C.J. Mahaney, and he also writes a chapter. And boy, this book was just seriously so good! It’s chock-full of Biblical wisdom and encouragement, and I just love how each chapter focuses back on Jesus and the Cross. After all, that should be the centre of the Christian life! This book is definitely a 10* book.

So there we go! My top 5 books that I read in May. Oh wait. I forgot… I have a bonus book!!

rillla

Rilla of Ingleside – by L. M. Montgomery (otherwise known as LMM)

Aaaaaaggggg this book is amazing and wonderfuly beautiful and the ending is the best and everything is just so good gaaaaahhhh!!!! *dies a little from sheer love for this book*

That is literally my reaction to this book. 😀 All the other books I’ve featured were first time reads, but this months reading of ‘Rilla’ was probably my 4th or 5th time through it. And I love it just as much as the first time I read it!!! This is the 8th and last book in the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series by LMM, and in case you didn’t know, this series is my favourite set of books in the entire world. (excepting the Bible of course.) Now apart from the sadness that this is the last book in the series (which automatically makes it sad because there aren’t any more to follow! *sniffs back tears*) this book makes me so happy! The characters (gahhhh, so perfect and darling and hilarious!), the story (Ohhhh my heart! The sorrow and the hope and everything!), the stunning writing (what else can you expect from the genius LMM??) and everything about this book is absolutely frabjous. This is one of my favourite books from the AoGG series. (I’m not sure if you could tell that :D) But ohhhhh, I just love it. So if you haven’t read the AoGG series, get thyself to the books and read them, and then finish up with the beauty that is ‘Rilla’ and then come back and gush with me over the wonderfulness of this book. K? 😀 This is definitely a 10* book. So go, I command thee, read it (unless you haven’t read the first 7 books and then read them first because you don’t want to ruin the storyline and the ending). It will fill your day with sunshine and happiness.

Ok, so now I actually am done with this week’s post. Apologies for the length! (note: there  will be a bonus post coming sometime this week, so keep your eye out for it!)

Let’s chat! Have you read any of the books on this list? What were your opinions on them? What was your favourite book that you read in May?