Follow the Drinking Gourd
A Story of the Underground Railroad
Author: Jeanette Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Grade Level Equivalent:
Guided Reading Level:
Slavery, Underground Railroad, Abolition
The title of this inspiring story is the title of an important folk song from a troubled part of our nation's history. Hidden in the lyrics of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" were directions for following the Underground Railroad, the covert trail by which black slaves could escape North to eventual freedom.
This engagingly illustrated picture book tells the story of Peg Leg Joe, a white one-legged sailor and handyman, who hired himself out to plantation owners, and eventually made friends with slaves. It turns out that this was all part of his plan, the book reads, to "teach the slaves a song/that secretly told the way/to freedom." When the song was learned, Peg Leg Joe would quit to work for another master. In this way, the song got spread around. The story chronicles, in simple unrhymed verse, the escape of one family, and how Joe's song helps to lead and inspire them. Parents Mollie and James, son Isaiah, old Hattie, and grandson George set out one night with the "Drinking Gourd" — "the Big Dipper" — as their guide. During the perilous journey they sang Joe's song. Dangers ensue and the family narrowly escapes. At last, the song leads them to Joe, who ferries them across the Ohio River. But there is still a long way to go before freedom!
Author Jeannette Winter contributes the radiant paintings, directly inspired by the American folk-art tradition, which detail the family's arduous journey and their hiding places within the white-owned homes along the famous Railroad. A short preface on the story's historical context, and the complete text and musical score for the song has been included. More than a picture book, Follow the Drinking Gourd is an important tribute to the struggle of antebellum slaves, and the people who helped them.