The 5 book episodic Way Makers series Overground, Underground, On the Water: a Journey to Freedom tells the story of three 21st century African American siblings: Eleven-year old Rheena Mackey, who is recognized by her tenacity and her thick mane of dark curly locks, and her little brother Zachary, who needs medication to help him focus his energy, and their willful older brother, 17-year-old Hoban Cruz, who has a Puerto Rican father. The three siblings are being raised by their single mom and have lived and played in Brooklyn, NY all their young lives. That is, until they are uprooted from their familiar urban life and moved by their mother, to the relatively safer rural Upstate NY Catskills Mountain home of their grandfather.
Papa, as they have come to call this proud old Black man, loves his African American heritage. He alternately entertains, then bores his young family when he shares his accumulation of knowledge and his vast collection old photographs, crinkled newspaper clippings, small carvings, African drum and other artifacts, buttons, beads, stones and the like that clutter his bedroom. Among his treasures is ewe, the talking drum. Papa tells outlandish tales about Africa, of the Middle Passage, American slavery, the Underground Railroad and America's Black people's struggle for freedom and civil rights, insisting in his singsong Gullah accent: "It be a magical ting " and "It be for troot '
At one point, Hoban, who has fair skin (because he's part Puerto Rican and part Black, ) teases his little sister when he notices that some of the individuals in Papa's collection of photographs of dirt-poor Blacks bear an uncanny resemblance to her and her their little brother.
I came to this story because as a teacher in the inner city I have noticed it is often difficult for 21st Century African American children, or mixed-race children to appreciate what our ancestors have endured for us to exist in the relative comfort of modernity.
One Saturday morning, in Over Ground, Underground, On the Water: a Journey to Freedom, during what seems like a typical Catskill Mountain storm .... there is rain, thunder, and lightning
- Rheena and Zachary are home by themselves,
- Papa has passed away,
- Mom has gone to work,
- Hoban has spent his Friday evening with new friends, and regrettably has not yet come home,
the two MacKey children toy with ewe, the talking drum and are abruptly transported back in time and space to 1847 American, deep into life on a rice Plantation in swampy South Carolina. Not long after they arrive, their older brother Hoban follows them.
The Way Makers series is historical fiction; therefore, we are introduced to actual places, events and people who indeed are America's history. For example, we discover it is Civil War photographer, Matthew Brady who took the photograph that Hoban teased his sister about. We learn of The Pearl, a schooner that secreted runaway slaves from DC to Baltimore, and of the vibrant community of Black Horsemen and women of Philadelphia that still exists to this day.
In this past, the trio discover firsthand the harsh realities of plantation life. They learn of the cruel humiliation of slavery and the auction block. The children become separated.....