Chasing the Nightbird

Chasing the Nightbird
Age Range
Release Date
September 01, 2011
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Fourteen-year-old Lucky Valera is a seasoned sailor about to join the crew of the whaling ship, Nightbird. But when his estranged older brother suddenly kidnaps him and forces him into servitude as a mule spinner at the mill, his life takes a dramatic turn for the worse. Determined to escape, Lucky links up with some unlikely allies: Daniel, a fugitive slave who works alongside him at the mill, and Emmeline, a Quaker ship captain s daughter. Emmeline offers Lucky passage on her father s ship in exchange for his help leading escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad, but Lucky knows getting out from under his brother won t be easy. When their plans go awry and Daniel is threatened by ruthless slave catchers, Lucky discovers that true freedom requires self-sacrifice, and he comes eventually to realize he is part of a larger movement from which he cannot run away.

Editor review

1 review
Underground Railroad Adventure!
(Updated: October 21, 2011)
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Newcomer Krista Russell desires to expose children and young adults to the historical realities of the slave trade and the abolitionist movement. She skillfully weaves historical truths into her story, such as The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, difficulties in distinguishing race, the Quaker’s early involvement in abolitionist causes, and labor laws and conditions of the 19th century. As Lucky vies for his freedom, grasping at anything that seems promising, he encounters the many hindrances that existed not only to blacks, but to many during that period, and which were beginning to be successfully resisted and broken down. Russell brings us into the desperate frame of mind many individuals may have had being born in such a time.

It has been a long time since I’ve read a fiction work exploring the themes of the Civil War era in the United States. I do not recall reading any, in fact, that revisited this time period through the eyes of a freeborn colored person. It is a unique perspective indeed, and Russell builds upon the historical foundation typically laid in middle and high school (and beyond) by introducing other true but often unknown or unstudied facts such as the experiences a colored, non-slave might have had with racism depending on his location, vocation, and origin.

Chasing the Nightbird, although slow-going at first, eventually delivers a good mix of action and thought-provoking story development. Although Lucky’s character is not as developed or deep as his friends Daniel and Emmeline, he is a great catalyst in this story and his spunky, no-fear attitude is a fun contrast to Daniel’s pensiveness and Emmeline’s caution. I especially like how Emmeline’s strong spirit and morals and Daniel’s experiences eventually draw out and expand Lucky’s values and ignite a desire in him to look out for someone besides himself. Emmeline proved to be my favorite character, with what I found to be a fully developed and strong personality. This glimpse of the past provides not only a lesson in history but a true-to-life adventure that awakens the humanity in Lucky and hopefully, in us all.
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