Forty Acres and Maybe a MuleTitle: Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule
Author: Harriette Gillem Robinet
ISBN: 068982078X
Pages: 132 pages
Publisher: Antheneum Books for Young Readers, c1998.

Gideon waved at the people standing around him in the moonlight. “You people stay here in the slimy shame of slavery. You nobodies! I be free and on my way to own land. Landowners are somebody!” He laughed. (6)

Pascal’s brother Gideon comes back to the plantation after the Civil War, announcing that all the slaves have been freed and they are each guaranteed forty acres. Along the way to Georgia to claim the free land, they travel with Pascal’s young friend Nelly, Mr. Freedman, and Mr. Freedman’s granddaughter Gladness. But getting the free fourty acres isn’t as easy as it sounds, and there is still a lot of hatred toward slaves in the south. Harriette Gillem Robinet tells the little known story of Reconstruction, when former slaves were promised Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule.

The books seem fairly realistic, including dialect and details about reconstruction. Having just lead a book discussion group revolving around World War II, I think kids would probably walk away from this with more questions than answers about that time period. None of the characters are killed where readers can witness it, but there is talk after the fact of slaves and freed blacks being shot and lynched. Happy things do occur, but the book ultimately ends on a sad note with the farm they had cultivated for several months being taken away. Whites and blacks are portrayed as good and bad people. The main character’s disability is mentioned in passing, but does not seem to play a significant role in the story. We received this at my library as part of the Picturing America Bookshelf Grant, and might be leading a book discussion about it.