Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband (InfoSoup)

A young boy is sent to Candle School by his mother, though the truth was the he was not very excited to go. His older sister Tassie almost has to drag him there, because he wanted to stop and see everything along the way. They headed down into the dark basement of a church where there were no windows. The school was run by Reverend John who shared his own story of being born a slave and then working to earn the freedom of himself and those he loved. Then one day men came to the Candle School and declared it closed since the State of Missouri had changed the law and no children of color could be taught to read or write. The school closed, but Reverend John did not give up and soon had his school floating in the middle of the Mississippi on a steamboat where the Missouri law could not impact them.

This picture book is based on the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose story is given in more detail in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The picture book is told through the eyes of a young boy who attends Meachum’s school and then works to reestablish it on the steamboat and pass the quiet word of the school reopening. Throughout the book there is a strong sense of purpose, of the importance of learning to read but also the importance of standing up for what is right.

The illustrations by Husband are exceptional. Using muted colors and fine lines, they capture the darkness of the school and the light on the children’s faces. They show the sorry of losing the right to learn and then the joy of growing up educated and looking to the future.

A luminous look at the harrowing life of African Americans even if they were free in the 1800s, this picture book is beautiful and filled with strength. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.