Monday, April 25, 2011

Bibliophile's Corner

The Color of Fire
by Ann Rinaldi

Flap Copy description:
It is 1741 and, as a colony of Britain, America is at war with Spain. The people in New York City are in a heightened state of alert, living in fear of Catholics acting as Spanish secret agents.
     Phoebe lives with Master Philipse and his wife, who afford her several liberties: they hire the teacher Mr. Ury to tutor her in reading; she travels through town unescorted; and she even collects medicinal herbs for her mistress from the traveling Doctor Harry. But soon the town  erupts into mass hysteria when the whites accuse the black slaves of setting fires to buildings to start an uprising, and Phoebe's best friend, Cuffee, is charged in the plot. The King's men promise not to burn him at the stake if he names names and identifies the leader, who they assume is Catholic and white. And ther is a rumor that Mr. Ury is a priest.
     With people implicating one another at every turn, Phoebe has to decide if she's willing to save her friend from the blazes of fire on earth, knowing her actions might result in his eternal damnation. As the reins are tightened around her, will her quest for her own freedom prevent her from doing what she knows is right?

My thoughts:
The Color of Fire is an unusual historical fiction novel for middle grade readers. Ms. Rinaldi has written a tale drawn from an actual event in New York City in 1741; which was called "the great Negro plot," by the whites. Thirteen black men were burned at the stake, seventeen were hanged, and two white men and two white women were hanged. All were sentenced with little or no defense - many were known, for a fact, to be innocent.
     Through the eyes of the young black slave-girl, Phoebe, these events are woven into a captivating story. Being someone who enjoys history I was surprised I had never heard of these specific atrocities in our country's past. So too was the author, Ann Rinaldi, she states: "I felt it worth telling, worth explaining."
     As Americans we have been told this type of treatment of slaves occurred in the South - I hadn't heard of such brutal acts in the North. I strongly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

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