Passenger on the Pearl by Winifred Conkling

Passenger on the Pearl by Winifred Conkling (Algonquin Books, January 13, 2015) is a middle-grade nonfiction story about two young girls who sought to escape slavery in 1840s Washington, D.C.

Emily Edmonson was only 13 when she joined siblings and others on the small ship The Pearl in hopes to escape North. It was the most daring mass slave escape ever attempted, and it was tragically captured before it reached the safety of the North. The book captures the horrors of slavery from a unique perspective: that of a girl on the brink of freedom.

Throughout her time in captivity, Emily had a number of chances to be freed, and it was only after the intervention of financing from her free parents and kind abolitionists in the North that Emily and her sister were able to be ransomed and enjoy the freedom that comes only from living in the North.

How arbitrary the color of her skin seemed once Emily was freed from slavery and able to move to the North! Emily got an education and a job. While I’m sure there were still difficulties, I was struck by the kindness given to her by the Northern abolitionists. How her life would have been different otherwise!

The story reads almost like fiction: although it is clearly a nonfiction text, the story of her escape on The Pearl is exciting, and her ultimate redemption a relief. I loved the incorporation of real pictures and maps to help draw the story along. For a young reader curious to know what the abolitionists were actually able to accomplish (other than the Underground Railroad), this is a fascinating book to read.

As an adult, I am inspired to read more about slave escapes, the Underground Railroad, and so forth.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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