Books by Harriette Gillem Robinet

Released: Jan. 1, 2003

"We were being sold on a green commons in front of a redbrick courthouse of American justice. That fact brought tears to my eyes." It's September 1860, and it's the third time at auction for 13-year-old Jacob Israel Christmas. Bought by The Honorable Mister Clarence Higginboom, Jacob and other slaves are soon heading to California. Jacob begins to suspect a plot by his new owner, a plot to steal gold coming out and stop the Pony Express from delivering election news to California. The news would, most likely, save California for the Union, when there's a danger it might secede with the South. The gold of California is crucial to either side's war effort, and all are sure war will come if Lincoln is elected. As the implausible set of events comes together, Jacob ends up in the right place at the right time to dash whatever treasonous plans Honorable Mister may have. The enslaved hero and his simple sidekick Solomon end up "saving California for the Union. What a privilege." Though readers may not find the story believable, they will learn a lot of history in Robinet's (Missing From Haymarket Square, 2001, etc.) latest work as she includes most of the important events in the history of slavery: the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott decision, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, along with the lesser-known story of California's role in the march toward civil war. Likable characters put a human face on history in this story of a journey across America at a time when people and news traveled slowly, a journey in which "shackles of mind and body" are thrown off and new responsibilities assumed. Fans of historical fiction might enjoy this work, and the focus on California and the Pony Express may fill a gap in library collections. (map, author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 9-14)Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2001

Historical fiction illuminates the events leading up to the 1886 Haymarket Riot. Twelve-year-old Dinah isn't much different from the mass of poor children working in Chicago's factories. She's always hungry; her family shares one room of a tenement with two others; she works 12 hours a day at a clothing factory; she unhappily supplements her family's meager income through petty theft. But she is different in one key respect: her father is an African-American labor leader who is instrumental in organizing the May 1 march calling for an eight-hour day. When her father is arrested days before the march, Dinah takes it upon herself to free him. Robinet (Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues, 2000, etc.) keeps her young heroine busy, what with work, her rescue mission, and her attendance at various labor gatherings, resulting in a somewhat uneven narrative flow. This is very much fiction-with-a-mission, and it's perfectly clear who the villains are, but the text strives to avoid oversimplification, including in its set pieces an encounter with a sympathetic police officer and a glimpse of the pressures brought to bear on the harsh manager of the factory where Dinah works. While Dinah's grasp of the big labor picture and her energy in the face of her privation occasionally strain credulity, they do allow the text to articulate the issues and to take the reader to the scene of the action. In doing so, it introduces them to an episode in US history rarely covered for children—as a bibliography void of children's titles will attest. (author's note, bibliography) (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2000

Social issues, civil-rights history, adventure, and mystery are all skillfully combined in this gripping story of 12-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his sister Zinnia, and their great-grandmother Lydia. Setting her story in Montgomery, Alabama, during the summer of 1956, when the bus boycott precipitated by Rosa Parks is already six months old and racial tensions are high, Robinet (Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, 1998, etc.) has created richly delineated characters and conveyed a strong sense of time and place from the perspective of two African-American children who are deeply involved in it all. In addition to the larger social issues, Alfa and Zinnia face other, more personal and immediate problems. Lydia's mind has started to wander, and the rent money that the three have struggled to gather for their tar-paper shack each month has been mysteriously disappearing from its hiding place. Even worse, the three are accused of stealing money from the big yellow house they are hired to clean. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for nonviolent resistance, and his admonishment that "justice delayed is justice denied," Alfa and Zinnia work tirelessly and ingeniously to solve both mysteries. Elements that add even more depth and suspense to the story include questions concerning the children's "phantom mother," who left them with Mama Merryfield when they were three-and-a-half years and six months old, and who has never been seen or heard from since; the secret signals and signs of solidarity that are exchanged behind the backs of white people; and the constant tension and brutality of an unequal and racist world—tensions and brutality that are exacerbated as the old order begins to crumble. Robinet has succeeded admirably in conveying all of this and more in a way that young readers will be able to understand, all the while telling a story that will keep them turning the pages. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
FORTY ACRES AND MAYBE A MULE by Harriette Gillem Robinet
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

From Robinet (The Twins, the Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans, 1997, etc.), an earnest look at the human face and the human cost of Reconstruction in the South. Pascal's older brother, Gideon, comes back for him after running away from the plantation, saying that he is free, that all the slaves are free, made so by President Lincoln, and they are to get 40 acres to farm. As Pascal and Gideon search for the Freedmen's Bureau that will give them title, they build a family of other former slaves. They get their spread, which they name Green Gloryland, but their hard work and joy are short-lived; a few months after they have planted cotton and built a house, their land is given over to whites, and the school and other black settlements are burned. Much of what happens in this story is told rather than shown, while the characters never come fully off the page. The text is often heavy- handed, e.g., "Colored and white, we're all just neighbors" and "Why couldn't white people just let them live?" Pascal, who has a withered arm and leg, is an inveterate punster, which adds levity to an otherwise grim story. (bibliography) (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

An exciting and unusual story about runaway slaves. Twins Pierre and Andrew have been rescued from slavery by their father, who left them in a wonderful three-story treehouse that he built in the swamps outside New Orleans and who has gone back to the estate where they were enslaved, to also rescue their mother and sister. When he doesn't return, the twins face the possibility that he is dead. They open his trunk and discover that he was one of Jean Lafitte's pirates; soon they are involved in a plan with Lafitte and Andrew Jackson to aid the Americans in the upcoming battle of New Orleans, and to rescue their family and friends from slavery. Robinet (Washington City Is Burning, 1996, etc.) evokes a vivid swamp setting, interweaves the twins' survival story and historical events, and limns the difficult relationship of the twins, who have been played against each other by a cruel master. Young readers will relish the marvelous details of their diet (in which live snails play a large part), their adventurous expeditions across the swamps, often by swinging on ropes, and many other fascinating features of their unconventional life. (map, glossary) (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
WASHINGTON CITY IS BURNING by Harriette Gillem Robinet
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Virginia is a slave in the house of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley; she was brought north from the state of Virginia to serve them at the White House in the month preceding the British invasion of Washington. While there she helps transport numerous runaway slaves to safety, inadvertently betrays 12 of them, and witnesses the British sacking of the city. This backstairs view of a slice of history is riveting for its period detail; Dolley Madison's extravagant parties, the trader slaves being marched past the White House, and the burning of the city are seen through the eyes of this bright and courageous 12-year-old who is both witness to and part of history. The characters—and their actions and ethics—are complex, especially Rosetta Bell, a slave who betrays her own people out of bitterness over the loss of her daughter and her own longing for freedom, and Dolley, who was brought up to believe slavery was wrong, yet keeps slaves out of political expediency. A fine, multilayered novel. (map, bibliography) (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
MISSISSIPPI CHARIOT by Harriette Gillem Robinet
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

It's 1936 in rural Mississippi, and Abraham Lincoln Jackson, or Shortning Bread, as everyone calls him, is on a mission. On his 12th birthday he takes the afternoon off from picking cotton with his brothers to set in motion a plan that will free his father from the chain gang. Everyone in town, black and white, knows that good, kind Rufus Jackson didn't steal John Putnam's car. John's son confessed to having taken the car himself. Still, Sheriff Titus Clark sent Rufus away as a warning to the black community. That was two years ago, and Shortning realizes that nobody will help his father but him. He concocts a story about the FBI investigating his father's case and arranges it so that a white stranger drives into town and seems to talk to the sheriff about Rufus. (He's doing nothing of the kind, but everyone—even Shortning's sister, Peanuts—is convinced that the stranger is really from the FBI.) With the help of Hawk Baker, a white boy whom Shortning saved from drowning, and Hawk's father, Rufus is released from the chain gang. But the family must flee before Rufus is lynched by the sheriff and his men. Shortning dresses the whole family up in clothes from the church charity box—the white townspeople don't recognize blacks when they change clothing—and the family sneaks away to Chicago. Robinet's (Children of the Fire, 1991, etc.) character, Shortning, is ingenious and endearing. (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
CHILDREN OF THE FIRE by Harriette Gillem Robinet
Released: Oct. 30, 1991

In search of adventure, feisty 11-year-old Hallelujah escapes the watchful eye of her guardian and watches Chicago burn down around her during one memorable October week. Meticulously, Robinet re-creates the events of the 1871 fire. Hallelujah wanders about, witnessing behavior both brave and cowardly; performing some brave deeds of her own; alternating between excitement, horror at the destruction, and guilt that she is enjoying the experience; and meeting a succession of people- -including Elizabeth, a wealthy, newly homeless white girl who lives with Hallelujah until her snooty parents track her down. The characters here are less well developed than the themes; adults can sound childlike (``Lordy, Mr. Joseph, what have you done did?'') while children sound like adults (``We're both children. We have the same feelings and needs...''), but Hallelujah sees many people put aside their racial prejudices and pitch in to begin rebuilding. The message sits a bit heavily, and there are some careless repetitions; still, this child's-eye view of a great event should appeal to readers with a historical bent. Bibliography; maps not seen. (Fiction. 10-13) Read full book review >