Thursday, January 01, 2015

Book Review: Passenger on the Pearl

PASSENGER ON THE PEARL by Winifred Conkling tells the true story of Emily Edmonson’s flight from slavery. The work of nonfiction for youth is an authentic portrayal of the heartbreaking reality of slavery. Readers are immediately immersed in the story as Emily and her sibling’s attempt to escape on a ship called the Pearl. After their unsuccessful quest for freedom, the story continues to follow Emily’s life in slavery as well as the plight of the abolitionists who planned the escape. Ultimately, Emily and her sister are freed, educated, and became abolitionists themselves. They even develop a friendship with Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The book includes a variety of compelling primary source documents including photographs, paintings, manifests, and posters that dramatically visualize the story. Graphic elements including maps, a timeline, and a family tree that help orient readers. The source notes, bibliography, and index are helpful to young researchers.

Focused fact sheets interwoven into the story help readers understand the laws and practical threats to slaves seeking freedom in the mid 19th century.

Conkling does a masterful job merging the real-world story of Emily with background information about the time period and specific events associated with the famous failed escape. The combination creates both empathy for the runaway slaves as well as an understanding of the context of the escape.

The National Park Service Underground Railroad Map at a map showing hundreds of locations related to the Underground Railroad.

To learn more about author Winifred Conkling, go to

After reading this wonderful book for youth, some teens might be interested in a more in-depth examination of the attempted escape and the aftermath. Read ESCAPE ON THE PEARL (2007) by Mary Kay Ricks, a work of nonfiction for adults.

NetGalley ARC used for review