Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden; Bloomsbury, 217 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.
Tonya Bolden, brilliant chronicler of the African-American experience, brings the fire to this searing, heart-rending, unforgettable novel based on a disgraceful, little-known event in American history: Near the end of the Civil War, during Sherman's March through Georgia, Union General Jefferson Davis ordered the pulling up of a pontoon bridge before the former slaves accompanying the march could cross to safety, dooming hundreds to death by drowning in the face of attacking Confederate troops.
As the novel begins, Union soldiers under the command of Captain Galloway are liberating the slaves, along with any livestock and supplies they can find, from a Georgia plantation. Young Mariah catches the eye of kindly Caleb, a wagon driver with the Union Army, and the two begin to tentatively dream of a future together amid the frightening uncertainty of what's ahead. Bolden's writing is pure poetry, as she vividly depicts, through flashbacks, the full horrors of slavery experienced by Mariah, sole caretaker for her disabled little brother after the terrible deaths of both parents through their slave owner's abuse. And then Mariah's joy at freedom: "She wanted to stay awake, wanted to see what freedom looked like, felt like at midnight, then at the cusp of dawn."
Bolden vividly evokes the chaos of Sherman's march, the hunger and heat and sickness and weariness endured by soldier and freed slave, the slaves' constant – and justified – fear of violence from racist soldiers among the ranks. (Kindly Captain Galloway stands out for his anti-slavery attitudes and his kindness toward Caleb and the other blacks.)
Bolden describes the exodus: "Doubled up bareback on lank mules, scrawny nags. Squeezed five, six in oxcarts, belongings pressed to chests. Women in worn-out dresses, bundles atop their heads, babies on hips. Men in patched pants and frayed frock coats toting sacks. A few were crumpled up in wheelbarrows and being pushed. ... Hosannas honeyed the air. Hallelujahs to God, hallelujahs to Yankees. Even while savoring sounds of jubilees Mariah couldn't help but liken this exodus to one great moving wound. Like her, they all had scars."
Bolden takes her story to its unbearably sad conclusion, and in an author's note, says that the outcry over the betrayal at Ebenezer Creek prompted former President Abraham Lincoln to approve Sherman's order that 40-acre tracts of coastal property be given to freed slaves, an order later rescinded by former President Andrew Johnson.
Can You Find My Robot's Arm? by Chihiro Takeuchi; Tundra Books, 40 pages ($16.99) Ages 2 to 5.
A little robot wakes up one day to discover his arm is missing and he launches a search, with his bigger robot friend's help, to find the arm – or a replacement. Would a fishbone work? A fork? A broom? Children will enjoy studying the intricate cut-paper illustrations depicting the friends' humorous search through an amusement park, a candy store, a library. Chihiro Takeuchi is a renowned paper artist from Osaka, Japan, and this is her first children's book in English.