Word Spelunking

Chasing the Nightbird - Krista Russell Chasing the Nightbird by Krista Russell is a MG book, well suited for the 9 years and up crowd of readers. The novel opens in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1851 where we meet Lucky Valera, a young African American boy about to turn 14. Lucky has recently lost his father, a famous whaler, and is set to work aboard the beloved whaling ship the Nightbird, as a full fledged crew member. But Lucky’s dream of living at sea is waylaid by his mean half brother Fortuna who kidnaps him and under the law of guardianship forces Lucky to work in the town mill. Lucky hatches a plan to escape Fortuna and make is way to the Nightbird but he soon finds himself involved a much greater and profound adventure.This was a really great read for several reasons. Russell’s vocabulary and vernacular are so genuine and spot on that I really felt like I was swept away to the wharfs of Massachusetts in 1851. After finishing this book, I had the whimsical urge to call people scallywags and landlubbers. For younger readers especially, the language is just so much fun and really adds a genuine layer to the reading experience. The main character Lucky is a very spirited, clever, and likable character who younger and older readers alike will have no problems believing in. The character of Emmaline, a young Quaker girl, is also easy to love and admire. She is a very determined, brave, and compassionate character who I think young girls will really look up to. And of course, the bad guys are perfectly bad and villainous. Russell’s characters, her heroes and bad guys alike, are pitch perfect for her audience. What I really loved about this book, and wasn’t expecting, is the fact that I learned a great deal. Underneath the fun, adventurous story is a very real and layered lesson about a complicated time in American history. Russell weaves very serious facts about slavery, child labor, and civil rights throughout the novel, but does so in such a subtle and crafty way that younger readers won’t feel as if they are being lectured, but they will walk away with a new bundle of knowledge.I think this would make a great read aloud book, both in a school and home setting. I really enjoyed this book and think it has something to offer to both younger and older readers.

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