To the Discussion Leader
Message in the Sky: Corey's Underground Railroad Diary is the third book in the My America series about Corey written for youngsters in the seven to ten-year-old range. In the first book, Freedom's Wings, author Sharon Dennis Wyeth creates the exciting story of Corey and his family as they make their flight to freedom in Canada from slavery in Kentucky. It is a tale taut with suspense as the Underground Railroad and the brave conductors aid Corey and his family in their escape. Flying Free has the Birdsong family delighted with their new lives blessed with freedom, but coupled with the sad memories of friends and family still living as slaves.
Message in the Sky has ten-year-old Corey becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad as he helps unite another family split by slavery and freedom. Corey's love for birds and nature is, as always, a vital aspect of his life. The importance of education, of helping others, of hope that one day all men and women will be free are once again highlighted in this third diary.
Author Sharon Dennis Wyeth says this about creating Corey's stories. "Writing Corey's diaries have given me such joy. I loved imagining the details of his family's everyday life. I'm sure that once upon a time a real boy like Corey existed — someone brave and observant and fond of nature…."
"Life could not be better," writes ten-year-old Corey Birdsong, as he begins his third diary. It is 1859, and Corey and his family, including his best friend Mingo, are living in Amherstburg, Canada after escaping their life of slavery on a Kentucky plantation. Corey enjoys playing with friends, planting a garden, and preparing for the end-of-school oration contest. He also continues his hobby of bird watching, befriending four pigeons that live near the cabin and training them to fly home when released from a distance.
One day three runaway slaves, a Mr. Jenkins and his twin sons, arrive at Amherstburg via the Underground Railroad. Since they had to leave part of their family behind, the community starts a freedom fund so Mr. Jenkins can buy his wife and daughter from their owner. Mingo decides he wants to buy freedom for Aunt Queen, his closest relative, so the boys begin saving money. Mingo works in a rock quarry, and Corey gets a job helping a ferryboat captain. Mama warns Corey not to get off the boat on the Ohio side of the river, but Corey does anyway, and the boat sails off without him.
In Ohio, Corey meets a very sick woman and her daughter, hiding from the authorities. He discovers that they are Mr. Jenkins' wife and daughter Gladys. Corey releases a pigeon with a note attached to its feathers telling his family his whereabouts. When Daddy rescues Corey, they bring Mrs. Jenkins and Gladys back to Amherstburg. Though Mrs. Jenkins dies, she lives long enough to be reunited with her family and to know they'd reached freedom.
Mr. Jenkins gives his family's freedom fund to Corey's family so that Aunt Queen may be brought to Amherstburg. There is a happy reunion and a big celebration to welcome Aunt Queen. Corey looks forward to Christmas and the New Year-1860. Aunt Queen's words echo in his mind, "Freedom is coming. It may be slow, but freedom is coming for everyone. In the end, freedom will be the winner."
Thinking About the Book
- At the start of Message in the Sky, Corey has a swollen toe from stepping on a nest of yellow jackets. Why was Corey in the woods without his boots on?
- How did Corey get the name Birdsong?
- Why are birds, especially pigeons, important in this story?
- Why is Corey's diary called Message in the Sky?
- Mingo feels it is very important to get Aunt Queen to Canada. Why is she so special to him? How does he get her to Amherstburg?
- Explain why Corey says he was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
- Identify the following people and terms appearing in Message in the Sky:
*Law of 1850
- One of Corey's favorite games was Duck on a Rock. Look back in his diary to see how this game is played. With the members of your Discussion Group play a game or two of Duck on a Rock. Gladys and Gwen enjoyed the game of jackstones. They used stones and a wooden ball. Today we call the game jacks. Test your skills by getting members of your Discussion Group to play several games of jacks. Which game did you enjoy more?
- Read a version of the fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." Why does Aunt Queen believe her journey to freedom was like this fable?
- Corey is delighted when he goes to Mrs. Bentley's home and she serves milk and raisin pie. Ask an adult to make a raisin pie for your group. How do you like this kind of pie?
- At Mrs. Jenkins funeral, Mama is asked to sing the song "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." Read the words and listen to the tune for this song. Try singing the song. How does the song make you feel?
- Corey and Mingo's teacher decides to have a contest for the best oration. The topic he chooses is "What Does Freedom Mean?" Read the speeches Mingo and Corey wrote. Write your own short speech that answers the same question.
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 Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.