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Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom

by Tingle, Tim


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Publishers Weekly :

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Bridges, a Cherokee artist making her children's book debut, joins Tingle (Walking the Choctaw Road) in a moving and wholly original story about the intersection of cultures. The river Bok Chitto divides the Choctaw nation from the plantations of Mississippi. "If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free," writes Tingle, "The slave owner could not follow. That was the law." But Bok Chitto holds a secret: a rock pathway that lies just below the surface of the water. "Only the Choctaws knew it was there, for the Choctaws had built it," Tingle explains. When a slave boy and his family are befriended by a Choctaw girl, the pathway becomes part of an ingenious plan that enables the slaves to cross the river to freedom—in plain view of a band of slave hunters during a full moon. Bridges creates mural-like paintings with a rock-solid spirituality and stripped-down graphic sensibility, the ideal match for the down-to-earth cadences and poetic drama of the text. Many of the illustrations serve essentially as portraits, and they're utterly mesmerizing—strong, solid figures gaze squarely out of the frame, beseeching readers to listen, empathize and wonder. Ages 5-up. (Apr.)

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School Library Journal :

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Gr 2-6–Dramatic, quiet, and warming, this is a story of friendship across cultures in 1800s Mississippi. While searching for blackberries, Martha Tom, a young Choctaw, breaks her village's rules against crossing the Bok Chitto. She meets and becomes friends with the slaves on the plantation on the other side of the river, and later helps a family escape across it to freedom when they hear that the mother is to be sold. Tingle is a performing storyteller, and his text has the rhythm and grace of that oral tradition. It will be easily and effectively read aloud. The paintings are dark and solemn, and the artist has done a wonderful job of depicting all of the characters as individuals, with many of them looking out of the page right at readers. The layout is well designed for groups as the images are large and easily seen from a distance. There is a note on modern Choctaw culture, and one on the development of this particular work. This is a lovely story, beautifully illustrated, though the ending requires a somewhat large leap of the imagination.–Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY

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BookList :

From BookList, April 15, 2006, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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*Starred Review*

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Gr. 2-4. In a picture book that highlights rarely discussed intersections between Native Americans in the South and African Americans in bondage, a noted Choctaw storyteller and Cherokee artist join forces with stirring results. Set "in the days before the War Between the States, in the days before the Trail of Tears," and told in the lulling rhythms of oral history, the tale opens with a Mississippi Choctaw girl who strays across the Bok Chitto River into the world of Southern plantations, where she befriends a slave boy and his family. When trouble comes, the desperate runaways flee to freedom, helped by their own fierce desire (which renders them invisible to their pursuers) and by the Choctaws' secret route across the river. In her first paintings for a picture book, Bridges conveys the humanity and resilience of both peoples in forceful acrylics, frequently centering on dignified figures standing erect before moody landscapes. Sophisticated endnotes about Choctaw history and storytelling traditions don't clarify whether Tingle's tale is original or retold, but this oversight won't affect the story's powerful impact on young readers, especially when presented alongside existing slave-escape fantasies such as Virginia Hamiltons's The People Could Fly (2004) and Julius Lester's The Old African (2005).


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