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January's Sparrow

4.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  449 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
Patricia Polacco's most powerful book since Pink and Say. In the middle of the night, The Crosswhites?including young Sadie?must flee the Kentucky plantation they work on. Dear January has been beaten and killed by the plantation master, and they fear who may be next. But Sadie must leave behind her most valuable possession, the wooden sparrow carved for her by January. Th ...more
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published October 29th 2009 by Philomel Books
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Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia PolaccoPink and Say by Patricia PolaccoThunder Cake by Patricia PolaccoThe Keeping Quilt by Patricia PolaccoMr. Lincoln's Way by Patricia Polacco
Best of Patricia Polacco
14th out of 58 books — 48 voters
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack KeatsMufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John SteptoeNothando's Journey by Jill ManlyWhistle for Willie by Ezra Jack KeatsThe Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
Multicultural Children's Lit
82nd out of 360 books — 73 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 893)
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Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I believe this is the longest book Polacco has written to date. This story, however, was such that it deserved a lengthier telling. Sadie and her slave family escape to Michigan and think they are safe--until the paddyrollers find them! This story was full of suspense, pathos, and warmth. Polacco spared nothing in her illustrations, depicting the horrified looks on the children's faces as they're forced to witness the beating of a slave friend, whose body lay bleeding and broken on the ground in ...more
Melissa Goto
Feb 15, 2016 Melissa Goto rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wow
January's Sparrow tells the fictional story of a young girl named Sadie Crosswhite and her family who are slaves in Kentucky during a shameful yet unerasable period of United States' history. It is on this plantation in Kentucky where Sadie and the other slaves witness the brutal, ruthless beating of January, a young man who is like an older brother to Sadie. In fear of who would be the next victim of the South's wrath, Sadie and her family escape the cruelty through the Underground Railroad unt ...more
Vicki Riddiough
Jul 29, 2015 Vicki Riddiough rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-aloud
I read this aloud with my 6 & 9 yr old boys as part of our morning devotions a few times a week. I wanted something that would introduce the history of slavery but also wouldn't make light of it or "sugarcoat" it for their age. This book fit the bill perfectly. I didn't know if I was even going to be able to get through the story at times but I'm thankful I did. It led to good conversation & awareness without scaring them away from the topic. Highly recommend.
Reggie Overton
Oct 12, 2014 Reggie Overton rated it it was amazing
January's Sparrow is a very moving yet historically important story that many children should be informed upon and read about. The author does a great job of developing a family of characters who's lives are constantly in a struggle for happiness freedoms and equality. It is suspenseful, tragic, and rewarding in the end. The illustrations are very dramatic and you can really be taken back to an interesting period of American history along its journey. The story will grab your attention and touch ...more
Rebecca Owen
Sep 19, 2010 Rebecca Owen rated it really liked it
This book tells the true story of the Crosswhite family, slaves on a Kentucky plantation, and their journey to freedom. Told by January, the adopted son of the Crosswhites, it is primarily about Sadie, the youngest child. They travel through nights, across the Ohio River along the Underground Railroad, ending in Marshall, Michigan. When slave trackers find them here, they must once again flee but at last meet again with January who had been thought dead.
The historical aspect of the book makes
Mattie Weck
May 10, 2015 Mattie Weck rated it it was amazing
Personal reaction – While I found this book to be heartwarming, its heavy topic made it hard to read as well. The author has done a great job in creating a children’s picture story book that addresses a difficult topic such as slavery. The illustrations are phenomenal, and although dark in tone at times, they do a great job of capturing the emotion and terror of the time.

Purpose(s)/Use in the classroom-

• Read aloud to make a curricular connection: This book would be a great read aloud for stude
Tots R
Apr 27, 2015 Tots R rated it it was amazing
January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco (Historical Fiction)

This book is recommended for children ages 8-12. I read this book to my school-age daycare children and they really enjoyed this book. Every elementary-aged child needs this book in their personal library because it is a must have collectors book. The story from the beginning to the end captures my children’s attention the whole time while I’m reading it. Dear January has been beaten and killed by the plantation master, and they fear who
Ms. Choi
Feb 28, 2015 Ms. Choi rated it really liked it
Shelves: 3-5-reading
HISTORICAL FICTION - JANUARY'S SPARROW is about the Crosswhite family and their experiences during this time period of slavery and inequality. After January is beaten and whipped to death, the family decides to flee to Michigan where they start new lives as a free family. Sadie, one of the members of the Crosswhite family, is devastated, though, when she realizes that she forgot the sparrow that January made for her back at the plantation. For about four years, the Crosswhite family lives in pea ...more
Ms.Tina  Stone
Feb 26, 2015 Ms.Tina Stone rated it really liked it
I did not expect to be so emotionally invested in a children's book as I was with this one! By the end of it I was in tears. This book talks about slavery and the consequences that come with trying to escape. After trying to escape a plantation in Kentucky one of the slaves, January is beaten to death in front of he Crosswhite family and other workers on the plantation to make an example out of him. Little Sadie Crosswhite is heartbroken but holds on close to a sparrow that January made for her. ...more
Jasmin Nabors
Feb 20, 2015 Jasmin Nabors rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 3-5-literature
January's Sparrow is a book appropriate for a 5th grade classroom. January's Sparrow follows the lives of Sadie Crosswhite and her family as the travel along the Underground Railroad and end up in Marshall, Michigan, where they peacefully live for approximately 4 years. The book begins with a young man named January being caught for trying to runaway and therefore is severely beaten by his masters. Sadie's family, the Crosswhites, must watch his beating; especially heartbreaking for Sadie becaus ...more
Gabrielle Blockton
Date: November 30th, 2014

Author: Patricia Polacco

Title: January's Sparrow

Plot: After January, a runaway slave is captured and is taken back to his owner's plantation to be whipped to death, the Crosswhite family decide to run away from the plantation and head North to Canada. The Crosswhites find themselves in the community of Marshall in Michigan where they start their lives as a free family.

Setting: Hunter's Bottom in Carroll County, Kentucky (Giltner Plantation); Ohio Safehouse (Underground
Linda Lipko
Apr 14, 2014 Linda Lipko rated it it was amazing
When my grand daughter excitedly told me that her fifth grade class was reading this book, she used this as a teaching/reading lesson to me. She loves to pretend she is a teacher, and I loved listening to the inflection and excitement in her voice as she read January's Sparrow with/to me.

Using vivid illustrations, Polacco begins the book with the injustice of, and brutal beating of January Sparrow, a man who was welcomed into the Crosswhite family when he was taken from his mother and sold into
Jan 29, 2010 Julia rated it it was amazing
Slavery is a difficult topic to cover in a picture book for children. It is difficult to get the tone and horror of the events without placing an undo burden of fear. Polcco's book hits just the right notes. She is a craftsman of words and pictures and her years of work truly culminates in this work.
Kara D'Evelyn
Jan 23, 2016 Kara D'Evelyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
Totally lovely, like all of her stories, but a very rough beginning (the public beating and consequent death of a slave) that had even grown-up "desensitized" me a bit uncomfortable. His "flesh stands up in squares" and "salt and pepper rubbed into his gaping wounds".

Polacco's always upfront with her storytelling, and I appreciate her direct approach, especially when it comes to historical matters. Parents should prepare to contextualize this story with a conversation about the brutal treatment
Dec 10, 2014 Morgan rated it it was amazing
This story, written by Patricia Polacco, is the story of a girl making her way on the Underground Railroad as told by a fellow slave. They build a life in Michigan, a free state, but live in constant fear of someone coming to take them back to Kentucky. Although it is a picture book, this story is graphic and heartbreaking and may be better suited to older readers. The dialect can occasionally make for a challenging read. The narrator's voice is distinct, and the mention of the authors research ...more
Mary Raccuia
Feb 10, 2016 Mary Raccuia rated it it was amazing
January's Sparrow is the story of the Crosswhite family and their quest for freedom from Kentucky slave owners. They runaway to Marshall Michigan where they live free until one day when their former slave owner tracks them down and tries to take them back to Kentucky. The town of Marshall fights for their freedom and with the help of the local Judge they run once again to find freedom in Canada. This book does a wonderful job of explaining how not all of the states were supportive of slavery. Th ...more
Nicole Anderson
Dec 02, 2015 Nicole Anderson rated it really liked it
As a reader I thought January's Sparrow was an inspiring story. The story is rooted in history that is very informative. The pictures alone tell a story from history. It was extremely sad in parts but the overall story was a fascinating one. I enjoyed this story.

As a teacher, I think this book would be good for upper elementary. I'm not sure that lower elementary students would fully understand the time or the events of the story. I'm not sure the images would be appropriate for younger children
Mrs. Hassig
Jan 23, 2016 Mrs. Hassig rated it it was amazing
Patricia Polacco can't write a bad book! Even though this book looks like a children's story - IT ISN"T! With the help of a Michigan historian she tells the story of a family who suffers unbelievable sorrow with the death of their friend January but escapes Kentucky across the Ohio River with the help of silent heroes all along the way . This book is not for the faint of heart. Sadie looks like any Harmony student but she has suffered more in her few years than any of us have in a lifetime. Wort ...more
IndyPL Kids Book Blog
Mar 06, 2012 IndyPL Kids Book Blog rated it really liked it
Eight-year-old Sadie is a slave on the plantation of Master Francis Giltner. When Master Giltner whips January, a young man dear to Sadie and her family for trying to run away, Sadie wishes she would have tried to stop him. Just the other day January had handed her a little bird, a sparrow, carved from wood. He’d handed it to her and said, “It’s fixin’ to fly And so is I.” Maybe Sadie should have told her mom and dad what January was planning to do.

That same night Sadie is shaken awake. Her dad
Mar 12, 2010 Josiah rated it liked it
January's Sparrow is easily the most suspenseful and exciting picture book that I have ever read. The intensity of the narrative bleeds through the pictures and events with solemn, powerful drive, taking us back to pre-Civil War Kentucky and allowing us to feel some of the real terror experienced by runaway slaves.

January, a man who lives on the same Kentucky plantation as Sadie's family and is just like a brother to her, receives a vicious flogging from his white owners when he attempts to es
The Crosswhites are a slave family working for Master Giltner in Kentucky. January, the oldest (adopted) child, can't abide this way of life, though, and takes his chances with trying to escape. He is caught soon after his attempt to run away, beaten to within an inch of his life, and left for dead. Soon after, news reaches the Crosswhites that Giltner plans to auction off the rest of their boys. They will not stand for this, so they set out for Indiana, the closest free state. They are able to ...more
Sep 11, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it
January's Sparrow is an intense children's book following a family of runaway slaves in their journey from Kentucky to Marshall, Michigan. Patricia Polacco spares few details as she depicts the atrocities of slavery and the perils that so guarded the gates of freedom for runaways.

I was at first a bit shocked by the vividness of the imagery and language used, thinking to myself, in a very 'school-mom' sort of way, 'but this is a children's book!' As I continued to read however, I appreciated the
Oct 19, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens-books
You might be a bit like me; only buying great books once they've come out in paperback. It's least expensive and the story is the same as the hardback edition. But, if there is one book you should pay extra for this year, I highly recommend January's Sparrow by Patricia Pollaco.

I was a bit surprised to get January's Sparrow in October to review as it seems like a book ripe for Black History Month. After reading January's Sparrow I now know it's perfect any time of year. January Sparrow is a chi
Patricia Tilton
Feb 12, 2013 Patricia Tilton rated it it was amazing
Opening: “Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them.

Synopsis: All the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’.” Sadie was horrified when she realized that the men were dragging and beating January, who was like a brother to her. He had carved a sparrow for her days earlier and she knew he was going to run. Adam and Sarah Crosswhite overheard tha
Evelyn Chen
Jan 17, 2010 Evelyn Chen rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-american
APA Citation:
Polacco, Patricia. (2009) January's sparrow /New York : Philomel Books,

Interesting/Reading Level: Grades 5-6

The Crosswhites are a slave family working for Master Giltner in Kentucky. January, the oldest child, attempts to run away but was soon caught, beaten, and left to die. News reaches the Crosswhites that Giltner plans to auction off the rest of the boys, so they flee for Indiana, and later to Marshall, Michigan. Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, regretfully leaves behind
Apr 01, 2013 Tracie rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Vegan
Dec 24, 2009 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: (maybe 8 or) 9 to 12 year olds & up
This masterfully told story is very powerful and inspiring from beginning to end, and it’s another Polacco book that made me cry. I had a deep emotional response and might have upped it one half to one star because of that, which I consider a perfectly legitimate reason.

I’ve been reading Patricia Polacco’s books at a fast clip and here she’s amazed me yet again. On the inside back cover of this book it’s revealed that her Michigan home was once an inn and safe haven along the Underground Railroa
Apr 29, 2014 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Bloom's Taxonomy

1. Identify the members of Sadie's family.

2. Explain the relationship between Sarah Crosswhite and David Giltner.

3. Predict what you think is going to happen when the Crosswhites run away.

4. Analyze the conflict that Adam Crosswhite experienced when they arrived in Marshall and were given the opportunity to stay.

5. Summarize their journey from Kentucky to Michigan.

6. Defend both sides of the argument at the showdown in Marshall. Argue in favor of Troutman and the Giltner's side a
Apr 29, 2015 Candice rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It makes you cringe, smile, and cry. Sadie, bless the little girl's heart has a very hard time leaving her home and traveling the Underground Railroad. Her family battles many hardships to find freedom. This is the most emotional Polacco book I have ever read and one that I will share year after year with my students who were also on the edges of their chairs. This was the perfect closure to our Civil War unit.
Nov 06, 2011 528_Tracy rated it it was amazing
Sadie Crosswhite and her family run away from the Giltner plantation in Kentucky towards freedom in Canada after their friend, January, is beaten nearly to death for running away. They make it as far as Marshall, Michigan, before they decide they are safe. Sadie and her family settle in Marshall, where she and her brothers go to school and her father gets a job. There are several free and runaway African American in Marshall, the Crosswhites are safe there. One night, the slave catchers find the ...more
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