Use these teaching resources to introduce students to the Underground Railroad, a covert network of former slaves, free black men and women, Northern abolitionists, and church leaders who helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom.
To the Discussion Leader
Corey is nine years old and, like the rest of his family, lives the life of a Kentucky slave owned by Masser Bob Hart. Corey's secret is that he can read and write. He and his Daddy hide the North Star newspaper under the floor boards and read the words of Frederick Douglass in secret and dream of freedom. When Daddy is forced to make a quick escape to avoid being sold, Corey's determination to be reunited with his father plunges the boy and his pregnant mother into the 1857 world of the Underground Railroad.
About her connection to Corey, and his heart-pounding journey, author Sharon Dennis Wyeth says, "I recently learned the name of one of my ancestors, a free person of color. I wish I knew the story of how he got his freedom. I found it easy to slip into Corey's world. Part of that is because I've read so much history. But it's also because I feel close to my slave ancestors. Even though I don't know most of their names, I love them and admire them for their bravery."
Nine-year-old Corey is "a double head," but he must keep it a secret because, "The massers do not like it when you read and write, because reading and writing give you power." It is 1857, and Corey and his parents are slaves on the Hart Farm in Kentucky. When he is not picking corn in the fields or helping in the kitchen, Corey takes walks with his Daddy and learns about birds and how to imitate their songs. He also plays with his friend Mingo, a fellow slave, and with Young Bob, Masser Hart's son. But life is harsh for the slaves. Corey gets slapped if he drops a spoon or breaks a cup, and slaves are badly beaten if they're caught trying to escape.
When Corey overhears the plans to sell his father, he warns him, and Daddy runs away to the north, leaving Corey and his Mama behind. Then a white man, Mr. Renfield, comes to the farm to buy horses. He takes a special interest in Corey, asking him to show him some birds. Mr. Renfield is really a conductor on the Underground Railroad, the people who help slaves escape to freedom. He encourages Corey and Mama to run away and "meet up with Daddy." Mama is reluctant to go because she is expecting a baby, but one night they make their escape. The journey is hard and full of danger. They must travel by night, guided by the stars, looking for safe houses along the way where conductors, both black and white, give them food and shelter and guide them to the next station.
Finally Mama can travel no longer. The baby is due soon. So Corey goes on, accompanied by a trapper, Tut. When Tut is captured, Corey is all alone. He becomes lost for two weeks and is finally rescued by an undertaker and "passed along" to many people until he reaches Oberlin, Ohio. There, Corey writes, "Happy day in my life. I have found Daddy!" They travel back to where Mama has been staying. Corey learns he has a new baby sister, and he has the honor of naming her. Finally, all together, the family boards a boat crossing Lake Erie to Canada and to freedom.
Thinking About the Book
- Why do you think Corey's diary is titled Freedom's Wings?
- Why does Corey's father run away so quickly without taking his wife and son?
- How do you think Masser Hart's son Bob feels about slavery? Share some examples from the diary to support your answer.
- What does Corey mean when he writes on April 19, 1857, "The massers own our body. But our mind belongs to ourselves"?
- Corey and his mama rub onions on their feet so the dogs can't track them as they travel. What other things do they do so they're not followed?
- Identify the following people and terms. Explain why each is important in Corey's diary.
- freedom papers
- Frederick Douglass
- Harriet Tubman
- North Star
- What was the Underground Railroad?
- Even though Corey hides in caves, wades through rivers, worries about and tries to protect his pregnant mother, he still manages to write in his diary as often as he can. Why does he keep writing?
- What name does Corey give his baby sister? Why do you think he named her that?
- Slaves trying to escape to the North were told to "follow the drinking gourd." This is a line from an old song. Learn more about this song and how it served as a map for slaves.
- Visit Scholastic's Underground Railroad website and learn what it was like to be a slave escaping to freedom with the help of people on the Underground Railroad.
- The sounds of birds are an important part of Corey's diary. Recorded bird sounds can be found on the web. Listen to these recordings and see if they sound like Corey's descriptions in the diary:
- Robin: "Cheer up, cheer up."
- Sparrow: "Oh, sweet Canada, Canada."
- Whip-Poor-Will: "Whip-poor-will."
- Crow: "Caw, caw."
- Owl: "Hoo, hoo."
- Cardinal: "Pur-ty pur-ty."
- Harriet Tubman and John Parker were former slaves who helped on the Underground Railroad. Find out more about them and share the information with your group.
- Corey mentions Frederick Douglass several times in his diary. Find out more about this former slave turned abolitionist crusader.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.