BookPage Children's Top Pick, February 2018
Two-time Newbery Medal-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis’ latest middle grade novel, a coming-of-age tale set in 1858, will resonate with readers for its timeless themes of justice, self-awareness and questions of right and wrong.
Little Charlie Bobo’s family are white sharecroppers for the Tanner plantation. It’s a meager existence, so Charlie’s father tries a few side hustles to earn more money, including joining the Tanner’s overseer and slave catcher, an unremittingly mean and clever man, in a scheme. However, Charlie’s father dies before he can complete his part of the bargain, and the overseer makes 12-year-old Charlie take his father’s place.
At first Charlie is excited to be traveling to Detroit to break up what the overseer explains is a gang of thieves who stole thousands of dollars from the Tanners. On the trip, Charlie carefully observes the overseer and eventually comes to several troubling conclusions about their mission. Charlie is further conflicted when he realizes one of the “stolen goods” is a boy not too different from himself. Without any guidance, Charlie must make several grown-up decisions of his own.
The historical accuracy of The Journey of Little Charlie educates readers on the efforts to capture runaway slaves and the fortitude of those who journeyed north to freedom. In this tale set in the past, modern parallels abound, offering a clear gateway for discussions that are painfully important today. As Curtis writes in his author’s note, the leap taken by Charlie is “[a] step that is available to all of us.”