The Journey of Little Charlie written by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis, is a powerful story set in 1858 and told through the eyes of Little Charlie Bobo, the twelve-year-old son of poor white sharecroppers in Possum Moan, South Carolina.
Little Charlie’s Pap has just died in a freak accident and the landlord’s vicious overseer, Cap’n Buck, comes calling to collect $ 50.00 he says Pap owes. With no way to pay that debt Little Charlie decides to work it off by taking Cap’n Buck’s forceful suggestion that he accompany him on a trip to bring back some thieves who stole $4,000 and escaped into Michigan some ten years earlier with their young son Sylvanus. During the journey Little Charlie comes to grips with the evil intentions of this mission when he finds out there were no thieves at all but rather two slaves worth $4,000 who stole themselves.
The story is skillfully told in dialect and will keep middle- grade readers engaged with Little Charlie’s growing need to do the right thing as he travels North to Detroit and over into Canada to trick Sylvanus into coming back with him. The authenticity of the dialect is especially effective in establishing the book’s setting. This is a natural book for reading aloud.
In the Author’s Note Christopher Paul Curtis talks about the one tenth of one percent of people who do the right thing: “And getting to know Little Charlie, I was convinced that even though he was raised awash in racism, ignorance, and all-encompassing poverty, he was a part of that brave minority.”
The Journey of Little Charlie written by Christopher Paul Curtis and partially inspired by a true event is perfect for readers ages 9-12 (Scholastic Press, 2018).
Questions for The Journey of Little Charlie
Study the quotation by James Baldwin printed on the page preceding Chapter One. Think about the following questions: How does the quote relate to the book? What did little Charlie learn about people during his journey? What did he discover about the North during his time in Detroit and Ontario, Canada? How did these discoveries change him as a person?
Both little Charlie who is white and poorly-educated and Sylvanus who is black and well educated have their life ahead of them as the story ends. How are the boys alike? Using your imagination write a few paragraphs about what you think could possibly happen to each of them going forward. What life path could/would they each take?
Have you ever spoken up when confronted with social injustice? If so, how did it make you feel? If not, how did it make you feel to remain quiet? Can you create a picture of your feeling? Use any artistic approach you like such as drawing, painting or cutting and assembling a collage of symbols out of colored paper. Go ahead. It is your feeling.