I was first introduced to this book as part of a planetarium show at our local museum. I really liked the story, and I realized that reading it gave the opportunity to talk about history as well as science concepts. Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter is a book about the Underground Railroad. It's based on a song by the same name that was taught to the slaves to help them follow the constellations to the North and freedom.
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About the book...
A man names Peg Leg Joe helps slaves flee to the North and guides them to the Underground Railroad. When he works on Southern plantations, he teaches the slaves a song that will guide them using seasons and constellations. A man, his wife, and son, along with two other slaves, use the words of the song to help them reach safety.
The book will be appealing to even younger children because of the rhythm and rhyme and the bright, boldly colored illustrations. But, although it's a picture book, it's a good one to use with older elementary-aged kids to discuss slavery and those who helped the slaves to escape.
History connections: Slavery and the Underground Railroad
- Explore the Underground Railroad interactive site from Scholastic to learn about slave life from the plantation and escaping through the Underground Railroad.
- Use this slideshow to learn more about slavery.
- Use this printable Junior Rangers activity book to read about the Underground Railroad and complete a variety of activities.
- Visit the National Geographic educational site to use the interactive Underground Railroad program and be a slave seeking freedom.
- On the Our History site, you can read about the life of a slave brought to the United States and complete activities about the Underground Railroad.
- Read this site to learn about Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous "conductors" on the Underground Railroad.
Science connections: Stars and Constellations
- Read this page from NASA to learn more about symbol in the song.
- Learn about what constellations are from this video.
- Use this game at Kids Astronomy to practice finding constellations.
- Read about various constellations and when and where to find them.
- Choose the big dipper and other constellations to illustrate with these accordion books.
- Younger kids can learn more about the constellations with these lacing cards.
- "Follow the Drinking Gourd", the song, has its own website. The site has information about the lyrics and what they mean, a collection of books and plays that have been based on the song, and actual recordings of the songs to listen to.
- This printable pack is meant to accompany a planetarium viewing of the program based on the song, but you could also use it in conjunction with the book. It has some activity sheets and information about the song and the Underground Railroad.
- You can learn more about the author, Jeanette Winter and read an interview with her about another of her books- The Librarian of Basra- here.
- Watch a video of the song here.
- The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud
- Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
- The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad by F.N. Monjo
- Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards
- Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling
- Child's Introduction to the Night Sky by Michael Driscoll
- Zoo In the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton
- Exploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners by Terrence Dickinson