cover image Blacksmith’s Song

Blacksmith’s Song

Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illus. by Anna Rich. Peachtree, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56145-580-5

An enslaved nine-year-old boy narrates this tense fictional story about the Underground Railroad. His father, the plantation’s blacksmith, uses his hammer and anvil as a signal: “Tonight he is sending word to the folks in the woods, who are waiting to hear when it’s time to leave.” In an author’s note, Van Steenwyk (How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln) acknowledges that “there are many theories about how [enslaved people] might have communicated with each other, but little evidence to support these beliefs,” so it’s unclear what, if any, historical basis the story has. When his father falls ill, the boy steps in to “send the message to those... who are waiting to hear the blacksmith’s song.” Rich (Under the Night Sky) heightens the stakes through the cinematic lighting of her dramatic, thickly daubed oil paintings—a strong sense of danger is ever present, both in scenes of opulent dinners and parties and in daring moonlit escapes. Despite the story’s uncertain historical underpinnings, it’s a plausible, powerful vision of ingenuity and daring in action. Ages 6–10. [em]Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. (Feb.) [/em]