Saturday, November 7, 2009


Some people don't believe that children should be exposed to controversial figures. If you are one of those people, then JOHN BROWN is probably not a book for you. If you believe, however, that children need to understand that most people are neither entirely good nor entirely bad, that sometimes very good people make poor decisions, and that kids learn from talking about controversy, then JOHN BROWN is a book you will enjoy sharing with your upper elementary, or middle or high school students.

John Brown was an ardent Christian. He believed that blacks should not only be free, but that they should be EQUAL- toward that end, he was kicked out of his home church for giving African Americans his pew at the front of the church after they had been seated in the back. Brown began his abolitionist roots working on the underground railroad in Hudson, Ohio. After the United States passed the Kansas-Nebraska act, which said that those two states could vote on whether they would enter the Union as free or slave states, Brown fought tirelessly to ensure that Kansas would be free. In one well-known battle, John and his sons stormed the homes of five pro-slavery settlers who had been threatening his family and other abolitionists, took the men to a creek, and killed them.

John Brown is perhaps best known for his role at Harper's Ferry. Harper's Ferry, the home of a federal armory which housed more than one hundred thousand rifles, was viewed as a symbol of Southern power. Brown decided that he and a small band of abolitionsists would capture the armory and seize the rifles, then use them to battle the Southern slave owners. Although he was initially successful, he made several poor decisions during this battle, and was eventually captured and hanged as a traitor. Many dismiss Brown as a madman. Hendrix, however, believes that we must see Brown as a man with huge passion and convictions for the downtrodden.
"I will raise a stom in this country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil."
I love when illustrations help kids understand a complex story, and John Hendrix's frontier style water colors (I'm not sure that is exactly how to describe them, but it's the best this non-artist can do) done on backgrounds of blues, tans, and golds, definitely do that. Most are bold, two-page spreads, that include a larger than life John Brown, but a few are also maps. Key quotes figure prominently in many of the illustrations. And if you enjoy reading author's blogs, John Hendrix has a great one- he includes photographs from a recent John Brown book tour, but also pages from his sketchbook.

I'll be sharing this book not only with our fourth and fifth graders, but also with some of my high school history teacher friends!