A Slave’s Hero: a Dog

July 16, 2009

I stumbled upon this rich text in the new book section at the library.  The underground railroad is a standard in social studies for fourth grade.   Sharing this story may help bridge history with something familiar – a boy and his dog. 

Elisa Carbone wrote Night Running:  How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful Dog (illustrated by E.B. Lewis).  It’s based on a true story of James Smith, a runaway slave.  James decided to confide in a friend about his plans to escape.  Unfortunately, his friend betrayed him and he was caught.  James’s dog, Zeus, stayed close by and helped him escape his captors.  Although James was thankful, he worried that Zeus would make too much noise.

Zeus didn’t follow.  No, sir.  He ran on a head.  And noisy?  He made more racket…

This book is excellent for teaching students to focus in and highlight the most important parts.  Time upon time, Zeus saved James’s life, alerting him of danger and helping divert attention.  I was on the edge of my seat.  Eventually, James had to cross the Ohio River to freedom.  He hugged his dog for the last time and began to cross, only to be saved by Zeus again.

Boys like to see themselves as being fearless.  Night Running captures the sense of adventure, courage, and perseverance.  It also taps into the bond a dog has with his boy, as James loves his dog, but he is not willing to take Zeus.  Internal character conflict arises.  I had to reread parts to gain better understanding, visualizing the scenes and feeling the conflict.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Night Running:

  • Voice – you can almost hear James talking to Zeus and letting you into his head
  • Repeating Line woven in text –   Zeus was good at that.
  • Personification –
  • Simile – droopy as an old mulethrew that switch down like it was a rattlesnake on fire
  • Hyphenated words – good-for-nothings; fired-up mad; sweet-smelling