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.