It's 1838, and James has made a secret plan to escape Master Graham’s farm–and slavery. James tells his dog Zeus he has to stay behind: he’s simply too noisy to bring along on a dangerous nighttime journey. But when two white men capture James soon after he runs, he’s grateful his faithful hunting dog didn’t obey. Zeus has followed behind, and the scrappy hound rescues James from his captors. An author’s note describes the real life inspiration behind the book: James Smith, a slave who escaped with the help of his dog and went on to become a farmer and Baptist minister.
Carbone's (Stealing Freedom) powerful first picture book, based on a true story, is set in 1838, when James, a young slave, decides to escape his master's Virginia farm and reluctantly tells his noisy dog, Zeus, to stay behind ("One skinny old hunting dog wasn't worth staying for. Not when there was freedom to be had"). Ignoring the boy, Zeus comes anyway and saves James's life several times, helping him escape his master's lackeys, kill vicious slave-catching dogs and cross the Ohio River when James's canoe sinks. Dramatically illuminated by sunshine and moonlight, Lewis's (Coming on Home Soon) watercolors highlight the characters' peril-in one scene, James tenses as he's about to be whipped by his captor; equally upsetting is the sight of James and Zeus fending off the pack of dogs. Carbone's colloquial narrative offsets the harsh reality ("Ropes that are slimed up with dog spit are mighty easy to untie!") and emphasizes the sometimes strained but tender friendship between boy and dog. This emotionally charged account will move children and parents alike, right through the quietly triumphant denouement. An author's note provides details about the real James Smith's later years. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information