Robinet, Harriette Gillem. Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule. Turtleback, 2002. ISBN 978-0613229869 144 pp. $
Through the eyes of Pascal, a young black slave, we perceive the beginnings of the Reconstruction period of the South. Motivated by a promise of “forty acres and maybe a mule” by Circular 13 from the Bureau of Refugees, Pascal’s brother Gideon enlightens his family and friends of the Emancipation Proclamation and convinces his younger brother to leave the plantation with him. Along the way, they search for other missing members of their family, make new friends, and find enemies. Joy builds as their farm comes together a piece at a time. Just when it’s nearly harvest time, a ruling that says slaves must give back their land comes out. Will the City family lose everything they have gained?
Readers come away with a clear picture of the life that has been fled, the continued injustice of racism, and frustration at the threat of impending loss. The humor, resilience, and hope of freed slaves are uplifting. Period details and realistic dialect add credibility to the characters and authenticity to the tale. An author’s note presents facts that the story is based on; Robinet challenges readers to think about today’s injustices against people of all kinds. A bibliography for further reading is appended.
Often wars are portrayed in historical fiction, not the act of rebuilding in the aftermath. Robinet’s novel is a welcome change, and would work very well for classes studying the Civil War or African-American History.