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Steamboat School

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  623 ratings  ·  178 reviews
Missouri, 1847

When James first started school, his sister practically had to drag him there. The classroom was dark and dreary, and James knew everything outside was more exciting than anything he'd find inside.

But his teacher taught him otherwise.

"We make our own light here," Reverend Meachum told James.

And through hard work and learning, they did, until their school wa
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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Dave Schaafsma
In the mid nineteenth century the Missouri legislators made it illegal to educate African Americans (“negroes and mulattos”), (a proud moment in Missouri history, I am sure). John Berry Meachum, a teacher of such children, figured a way around this, by moving his school to federal territory, on a steamboat in the Mississippi River. This is a fictional book based on the known events, since Hopkinson couldn’t find any memoirs of attendance in the school.

The illustrations are great, made by the fi
A fictional story inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum. Readers experience the story by tagging along with James, a fictional African American boy attending school for the first time. He shows readers how much bravery it took to pursue an education after the state of Missouri passes a law making it illegal for negroes or mulattoes to be instructed in reading or writing. Using an ingenious loophole, school is held on a steamboat where the long arm of the law can't reach the student ...more
This is based on a pretty astonishing true story. John Berry Meachum had the genius idea to circumvent the Missouri state law which prevented African-Americans from seeking any kind of education by having a floating school on the Mississippi River. This book fills in an imagined narrative of some of the children who attended the school, emphasizing acts of everyday bravery and strong character. The illustrations are also breathtaking. Ron Husband's images are so rich and incredible, that it's no ...more
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
A young boy is sent to Candle School by his mother, though the truth was the he was not very excited to go. His older sister Tassie almost has to drag him there, because he wanted to stop and see everything along the way. They headed down into the dark basement of a church where there were no windows. The school was run by Reverend John who shared his own story of being born a slave and then working to earn the freedom of himself and those he loved. Then one day men came to the Candle School and ...more
Nancy Kotkin
Text: 5 stars
Illustrations: 5 stars

Of the thousands of children's books I've read, this is probably the most inspiring one. And it is based on true events and an actual person's life. Reverend John Berry Meachum, a former slave who bought freedom for himself, his family members, and many other enslaved African Americans, really did start a steamboat school on the Mississippi River after the state of Missouri outlawed education for "negroes and mulattoes" in 1847. Dedicated to education and hard
Katie Lalor
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
Even though it is an unfortunate truth about our nation's history, it is amazing to see we had brave and bold people that went against the unfair laws against negros. This is a great story, but I really enjoyed the illustrations and how the artist incorporated the shading, lightening, and font. ...more
This feels like it should be non-fiction, and it is based on the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum who lived from 1789 to 1854. He purchased his own freedom, began more than once from being penniless, and bought his wife’s freedom, too. There is an author’s note and an additional sources page. Reverend Meachum conducted a ‘secret school” in his church in St. Louis, Missouri until Missouri passed a law that it was unlawful to educate blacks. He worked around it by refurbishing an old ste ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Doc. by: David Schaafsma’s review
I felt uneasy after reading this book. The back cover does not have a photograph of the author so I googled her later and, as I suspected, she’s Caucasian. Whenever white writers tell stories of black individuals, there’s abundant emphasis on the good-natured fortitude of their subjects and almost none on their rage, frustration and sorrow. Perpetuating a belief in the superhuman endurance of black people is just another form of othering. There’s also much too little analysis of why whites would ...more
Joyce Yattoni
A good historical fiction story inspired by the life of Reverend John Meachum whose school was shut down as a result of an 1847 Missouri law disallowing any person from keeping a school for the instruction of 'negroes' in reading, or writing. To get around this prejudicial law Meachum opened up a school on the Mississippi River out of reach of the law. Looking forward to this read aloud when we return from winter break. It focuses on historical fiction and it also promotes the value of learning ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: elm-572
This is a historical fiction picture book set in Missouri 1847. Inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum, this is a story of a man, an educator, who fought for the rights of African Americans. He told his students "We make our own light here" a lesson I believe all teacher want to create in their classroom. He and his students did just that, until Missouri passed a law forbidding the education of African Americans. Instead of idly standing by, the Reverend decide to make his own schoo ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fiction story for children, but based on a true life man, Reverend John Berry Meachum, an African-American who ran a school for black children in St. Louis, Mo. This story tells of children who had no opportunity for education, until Rev. Meachum opened his school. Then in 1847 Missouri enacted a law which prohibited the education of black children or people. The solution found by Rev. Meachum is a part of this book, which is such a tribute to him. The illustrations that accompany the ...more
laura (bookies & cookies)
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
An inspirational story based on true events of a preacher and his students finding a way around the 1847 Missouri legislation against the education of black people, whether freed or enslaved. The illustrator was the FIRST African-American person to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios which is hella legit!
At first, James is not excited to attend school at all. But his dedicated teacher, Reverend Meachum, inspires James. When a law is passed forbidding African Americans to be educated in Missouri, Meachum sets to work to build a steamboat. When it is finally finished, school is held in the boat...because the boat is in the Mississippi River which is considered federal land and therefore, not part of Missouri. This is inspired by a true story. I loved the story and illustrations and was interested ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Steamboat School is inspired by the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum's school in 1847. When Missouri made it illegal for African Americans to receive an education, he took his school out to the water where federal law ruled instead. ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting story, straightforwardly told, with clear, lively, compelling art.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Another recommendation from Isaac. I think this was for Black History Month. I thought the artwork was exceptional. Again I learned a little history.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
a story about Missouri history I had never known - the illustrations are wonderful. Can see why this was selected as a book for literacy diversity class
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pbf-school
According to his blog, the illustrator Ron Husband first did sketches, then used mechanical pen and ink to make the finished drawings, then he added color in photoshop over an aged paper background to finish the illustrations. Only a little color is used here and there, some dark blues and dark reds, but mostly browns, blacks and whites. The result is that the illustrations resemble photographs from that era. The illustrations also do an excellent job of depicting the action in the story, and he ...more
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: black-history
A fictional story about a young African American boy, James, who is attending school for the first time. This book is inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum. The story tells about how much bravery it took to pursue an education after the state of Missouri passed a law making it illegal for negroes to be instructed in reading or writing. Reverend John uses a loophole and holds class on a steamboat.
A detailed author's note provides key historical information and additional sources are
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very moved by this book not only for the content but the illustrations are very evocative and are a perfect complement to the text. Geared toward an older audience (3rd grade and up). Hopkinson takes some liberty with the story but her Author's Note at the end of the story explains things. ...more
Michele Knott
A must have book if you teach civil rights.
I loved reading this story in this historical fiction book, amazing the courage people had to do what is right.
Susan  Dunn
Based on a true story.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it liked it

(School Library Journal)
James, his sister, and his mother, a laundress, are free blacks living in Missouri in the 1840s, but being free does not give them equal rights. James and his sister attend school in the basement of a church. The secretive space is lit only by candles, but Reverend John, the teacher, tells James, "We make our own light here." A state law passed in 1847, however, makes it illegal to have any kind of school for "negroes or mulattoes," slave or free.

This is a historical fi
Leighton Simpson
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: exam-1
I really enjoyed this Jane Addams Award winning book. It is a very neat story giving a true representation of what African Americans have had to face in their life through education. This story would most likely be more appropriate for the older range of young readers because of the cultural knowledge. I think it is an amazing story to show children today how education should not be taken for granted and to show the inequality that once was in our nation. The illustrations throughout the book gi ...more
Stephanie Croaning
May 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: picture-books, yhba, 2019
This is a fictionalized account of the work to educate African Americans in St. Louis in 1847.

Picture book, fiction
by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Ron Husband
Disney Hyperion, 2016
YHBA nominee, 2019
3 out of 5 stars

The life of Reverend John Berry Meachum is a story of resourcefulness and determination. The author's note at the back of this book gives a brief accounting of this amazing man's life. The author has chosen to tell a portion of Meachum's story through the eyes of a fictional boy w
Beth Anderson
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It’s important for kids to recognize and appreciate all kinds of bravery and understand that many of their peers are called on to be brave in ways they may have never considered.
History comes alive in the illustrations, and the story takes on special significance by being told by a young boy. Hopkinson shares the story of a heroic teacher by showing the effect he had on one child. Seeing this slice of history through James’ eyes provides a window into this time and place.
It’s a great tribute to
Marissa Ebert
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is about James, who reluctantly begins attending school in the basement of his church. The book takes place in Missouri in 1847, and a law has just been passed stating that African Americans were no longer allowed to receive an education. James realizes how important school is to him, and he helps his teacher find a loophole in the law.

I love this book. I have read it so many times and I love it more each time. The illustrations are detailed and convey emotion that readers pick up on i
Dana Scott
Steamboat School is an inspirational and educational children's book. The setting of the book takes place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1847. This was a time in society where discrimination took place. This can be very educational for children and can spark many informational conversations in which they can learn from. The story is interesting because it is told from the point of view of a child James. First, he did not want to go to school which could be something many students may relate to. Then, ...more
Alana Young
While this story is fictional, it is based on a real person, Reverend Meachum. This story is set right after a Missouri law was passed that no person of color could be educated in this state. As a result, Reverend Meachum renovated a steamboat to hold school there; the Missouri River didn't belong to the state therefore, Reverend Meachum could continue teaching on his boat. This story provides a way into talking about that historical time period for children. Some background knowledge would be b ...more
Shelby Santullo
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children
I really enjoyed this story because it is an inspiring story about education. The story takes place in 1847 when a new law was enforced in Missouri that no African American children were to attend school. The main character James goes from disliking school to missing it when he is forced not to attend anymore. His teacher Reverend John who escaped and survived slavery decided to come up with an idea of schooling the children on a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River because the law s ...more
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I write nonfiction and historical fiction about ordinary and extraordinary people of the past, women's history, and environmental and social justice issues.



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