Friday, July 10, 2009

Across the Wide River by Stephanie Reed

[First, an apology to Stephanie and the CFRB. I was supposed to have this posted on Wednesday, but I've had some big setbacks this week that kept me away from the computer]

Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River are historical novels of the sort I personally love to read. They are based quite solidly on true historic events and people, yet the story is filled out with imagination. The John Rankin family is in the top ranks of the conductors on the Underground Railroad. Living in a house that sits at the top of a hill overlooking the Ohio River, they had a great spot for the runaway slaves to find refuge as they fled from Kentucky .

Looking down from the front porch of the Rankin house. At the foot
of the hill is Ripley, the Ohio River, and the Kentucky shore.
Picture on the right is looking up at the front of the house.

It is impossible for me to be objective in reviewing this book and the sequel. I have very strong feelings for both of them and believe all middle school students, at the very least, should read them. While I was teaching middle school English myself, I remember a couple of books about abolitionists and the Underground Railroad that were on the summer reading lists (required). These were both good, but I love how detailed Stephanie Reed writes, and how she gives us the point of view of the children rather than the parents. (By the way, the Rankins eventually had 13 children, although not all of them had been born yet at the time of this story) Lowry Rankin, the oldest of the youngsters, was at that point in his life where he was reaching manhood and had many decisions to make. Lowry had memories of life in Kentucky, where his father set up a school to teach slaves. One of Lowry's friends was beaten for attending the school, and John Rankin eventually felt a need to move to Ohio. The Rankin house on the hill became a welcome station for slaves fleeing from Kentucky; the lantern in the window a beacon of safety signalling them to come. In this novel, Lowry has come to an age that he can help with moving the fugitives on up the trail of the Underground Railroad. He's also at an age to be smitten by the love bug, but his shyness gets in the way. In fact, his shyness gets in the way of a lot of things, including decisions about his future. His father wishes Lowry would follow in his footsteps as a preacher and speak out for the cause, but Lowry isn't so sure.

In this story that follows an adolescent growing up in perilous times, we also get to meet some other giants in the abolition movement: Lyman Beecher, the founder of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati; Professor Calvin Stowe; and Beecher's daughter (Stowe's wife) Harriet Beecher Stowe. I can't emphasize enough the importance of this book in bringing to life the times, culture, and real story of a family sold out to God and convinced of the need to help the slaves to find freedom. I encourage all parents of teens and middle graders to give this book to their children and to read it themselves! It would be great to discuss the two novels and the true history they depict.

To see more pictures of the Rankin House and Ripley, check out the Photos section of Stephanie's page on

To learn more about Stephanie Reed and her books, see her website
and blog site.

Purchase The Light Across the River at
Barnes and Noble,, and Amazon.

Check out these other member blogs this week for more info.

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