This historical fiction novel by Lois Walfrid Johnson is the first in the " Freedom Seekers" series published by Moody Publishers, River North Division.
Escape into the Night is written for kids ages 9 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Thirteen-year-old Libby is a spoiled young lady who has spent the past four years living with her wealthy aunt. The year is 1857, and Aunt Vi tells Pa she can no longer manage Libby. Pa takes his daughter to live with him on the steamboat he captains. The boat is called the Christina after his deceased wife. He promises they will look after each other and be a never-give-up family.
Libby is both frightened and intrigued by her new life aboard the Christina. Her room is a third the size of the one she had at Aunt Vi's. Against her wishes, Father buys her a huge Newfoundland dog named Samson for protection. She also has mixed feelings about the cabin boy, Caleb. Just a year older than she is, he lives aboard the boat with his grandmother, the cook. Libby sees shadows sneaking around the ship at night and suspects Caleb of smuggling people aboard.
When Pa makes Caleb chaperone Libby on a stop in St. Louis, Libby gets her first glimpse of the realities of slavery. They watch a slave auction in which a boy about their age, Jordan, is sold to a notoriously cruel slave trader named Riggs. Caleb whispers something to Jordan about an upcoming port of call for the Christina.
The next day, Libby believes she sees Jordan aboard the boat. When she learns she's right about Caleb's activities, she's torn between supporting him and recognizing that her father could be imprisoned if slaves are found on his boat. When she tells Pa what she's seen, she learns he and Caleb already share this secret and a code of honor based on their faith. Pa agrees to let Jordan stay on the boat for a while so he can get to Iowa and search among the Quakers for his family. Jordan believes it is his job to help get his mother and siblings to freedom.
Riggs, who has been scouring the river towns in search of his lost slave, sees Jordan at a port city. There, Caleb, Libby and Jordan borrow a wagon from Caleb's old pastor. They hide Jordan in back and drive to the farm owned by some of Caleb's Quaker contacts. Riggs almost catches them on the way, and he comes to search the Quaker home in the dead of night. Jordan hides beneath the floorboards. The Quakers tell Jordan where to find Emma, a friend of his mother's, who has also escaped with her newborn son. Emma joins Libby, Caleb and Jordan.
They discover their escape route is blocked by Riggs and some of his men, so they know they must create a diversion. They also feel there's a better chance Emma and Jordan can get past the slave traders without Emma's baby. They form a plan in which Libby, posing as a girl who takes in laundry, sneaks the baby past the traders and back to the Christina. Caleb, Emma and Jordan return to the boat later.
Emma heads to Canada and freedom with her son. Jordan realizes he must stay on the Christina a little longer before he can rescue his family. People working with Riggs are already watching the farm where Jordan's family lives, expecting him to show up. Libby gains Caleb's and Jordan's trust, and her father expresses his pride in her willingness to help slaves escape to freedom.
Pa tells Libby that Samson will take care of her, though God is her real protector. Libby remembers that her parents always strove to do work that would be pleasing to God. Pa explains that he helps slaves because, like many Christians, he believes the fugitive slave law of 1850 goes against the way God wants people to live. Pa says God tells people to love one another as He has loved us. As Jordan talks about getting his family into the Promised Land of freedom, Libby remembers the Bible stories of Moses and Joshua that Ma taught her long ago.
Later, Jordan sings the slave anthem "Let My People Go." Jordan has a strong belief in God; he hears Him speak and trusts in His guidance and protection. Emma prays for her child and feels sure of his safety once Jordan tells her that God will protect the baby. Caleb is a Christian, and several godly friends from his past pray for and help with Jordan's escape. Some of those who assist are Quakers, members of the Society of Friends. Quakers' religious beliefs include truthfulness, so sometimes Quakers try not to know too much so they won't have to lie. Libby asks Caleb, Jordan and Emma to pray for her as she takes on the dangerous task of diverting the slave traders' attention.
Other Belief Systems
None. Libby does see marks on Jordan's back from where his master whipped him repeatedly.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why does Libby initially believe slavery isn't so bad?
What happens to change her mind?
Why does Libby think Jordan looks like royalty in a way?
- What causes him to seem dignified in spite of his circumstances?
- Have you ever found yourself standing up to a problem?
How has a deep sense of direction, conviction or purpose helped you?
What does Jordan say about hate when Libby asks if he hates his master?
- When have you had a hard time forgiving someone?
- How did you feel inside as you carried a burden of hate or anger?
- Were you able to forgive?
If so, how did it feel? vWhat does the Bible say about forgiveness?
Why is Pa willing to help slaves escape, even though he could be put in jail for it?
Have you or someone you know ever been in danger for standing up for a belief? What happened?
Talk about some of the never-give-up families in this book, both those made up of blood relatives and those that aren't.
- Why are families so important?
- What is unique and special about your family?
Racism: The story takes place at a time when slavery is common. Laws still allow slave owners to travel to non-slave states and reclaim their "property" if a slave escapes.
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Readability Age Range
9 to 16
Lois Walfrid Johnson
Moody Publishers, River North Division