The era that preceded the Civil War is addressed by Eric Foner in his new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad ($26.95, W.W. Norton). James Oakes, an author and winner of the Lincoln Prize, says of this book that it “liberates the history of the underground railroad from the twin plagues of mythology and cynicism. The big picture is here, along with telling details from previously untapped sources.” Between 1830 and 1860, operatives of the underground railroad in New York helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom. Their defiance of the disastrous Fugitive Slave law inflamed the slave states and contributed to their decision to secede. It is hard for us to conceive of what it meant to live in those times, but this book brings them to life.
There's a lot of fun to be had reading The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers by Sheila and Letty Sustrin, wonderfuly illustrated by Thomas H. Bone III ($17.95, Blue Marlin Publications). Written by identical twins and retired teachers, this is a fifth in the series about "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire" aimed at readers aged 5 and up. When she cleaned a number of slippers and put them out to dry, they disappeared. The rest is a hilarious account of the effort to find them and all the people who joined in to help. The culprit is a cat, but when they disappear again you will be delighted by the way it ends.
A book written to inspire younger readers is The Hero's Trail by T.A. Barron ($8.99, Puffin Books, softcover). Aimed at those age 8 and up, it is filled with profiles of young heroes who displayed courage, hope, generosity, compassion and perseverance. The book is a reflection of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that honors them and the author's mother. Over the years, close to $550,000 has been awarded to nearly 350 children and the book features 71 of them. If Barron's name strike a chord, it is because he is the author of the "Merlin Series" which has sold millions of copies worldwide. This would make a great gift for any young person.