cover image The Wagon

The Wagon

Tony Johnston. Tambourine Books, $17 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13457-0

Ransome's (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Freedom's Fruit) light-drenched oil paintings set off this poetic tale of a Carolina boy who is born into slavery and longs to be free. The wagon is the story's central metaphor; built by the skilled hands of the boy's father, it represents freedom, like the sweet chariot of the hymn the family sings, ""Swing Low."" In the end, with the Civil War over and emancipation finally achieved, the wagon carries the family to a new life. Johnston's (Amber on the Mountain) poignant text is charged with the story's emotional freight; she deftly captures the boy's frustration as he chafes at slavery (""I envied all the footloose things. Even the sun, and the moon""), his rage at the injustices he and his family endure and, later, the initial trepidation of emancipation (""We were scared. Who could see down Freedom's furrow?""). Beautifully constructed, the story is enriched by Ransome's striking images: daybreak over a field of cotton; father and son heading out in the wagon for supplies, silhouetted against a sunset. This is a book that speaks to the heart, affording readers an intimate, affecting look at a pivotal time in American history. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)