"A Different Kind of Christmas" is a short novel about the Underground Railroad and the escape of some Southern slaves during the holiday festivities."A Different Kind of Christmas" is a short novel about the Underground Railroad and the escape of some Southern slaves during the holiday festivities. Fletcher Randal, the son of a North Carolina plantation owner is attending college at Princeton in 1855. He meets three Quaker students who take him to their home in Philadelphia where he is exposed to their anti-slavery beliefs and the Underground Railroad. His conscience bothers him, and Fletcher vows to help their cause.
The book is written simply so it would be appropriate for middle school students as well as adults. There is quite a bit of important background about the Underground Railroad, the Quakers, and slavery in the first half of the story. Some of it is woven into the story, but Fletcher is shown researching at the college library to learn more about the subject. When Fletcher returns to North Carolina for the Christmas break, he meets the engaging character Harpin' John. Tension builds as they make their plans since there is great danger to both the escaping slaves and the "conductors" of the Underground Railroad.
The book works if the reader thinks of it as an instructive parable or fable, fine for older children. Since the book is marketed to adults, it seems like there should be a bit more soul-searching and character development as Fletcher reaches such a difficult, courageous decision. While Fletcher is following the morally right path, he is also betraying his loving parents, ruining his father's political career, probably losing his inheritance, and risking death. So I would give the book a high rating for the moral message, but a lower rating for the storytelling....more
Author Kim van Alkemade was researching her own family history when she came across a purchase for wigs for eight young children who had lost their haAuthor Kim van Alkemade was researching her own family history when she came across a purchase for wigs for eight young children who had lost their hair after X-ray treatments in a New York Jewish orphanage. The powerless healthy orphans had been used in medical research to see if X-rays could shrink the tonsils. Orphan #8 is Rachel Rabinowitz, a fictional character who received the largest dose of radiation as the subject of Dr Mildred Solomon's research.
Fast forward to 1954: Dr Solomon is admitted to the hospice unit where Rachel works as a nurse. Dr Solomon's terminal bone cancer was caused by her exposure to X-rays as a radiologist. Rachel now has a serious health problem due to the intense X-rays received when she was a toddler. The book alternates between Rachel's early life and 1954 as it reveals the secrets of Rachel's past and the choices she made. Rachel confronts the doctor, hoping for an explanation and an apology. The tables are turned in 1954--Rachel is the person with power since she administers the medication, and Dr Solomon is a powerless patient in pain. Rachel has the choice of taking revenge or offering forgiveness.
We would cringe today over how large institutions treated orphans in the 1920s, but there was a huge need for orphanages during that hard economic time. The book presents many moral/ethical issues, a look at history during the Depression and World War II, the role of women in that era, and the difficulty of a same sex relationship. Orphan #8 is an interesting, thought-provoking book with book club material at the end of the book....more