Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Last week, we rowed Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter.  What a book!  This may be my favorite row to date, and with as many as we have rowed, that's saying a lot.  We read this as the second FIAR book in a two-book study on slavery.  (The first we rowed was Who Owns the Sun? by Stacy Chbosky, which I blogged about at  Booklist's synopsis of Follow the Drinking Gourd reads, "Winter's story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad.  While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper).  A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song's directions.  Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors.  The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that's compelling.  A fine rendering of history in picturebook format."  

I love this book and the fact that there really was a Peg Leg Joe makes it that much better.  What a hero.
After we read the story, we immediately listened to the song (and followed along with the printed words on the last page of the book) at  (I have linked it below.)
Next, we colored and placed our story disk on the Southern states of our US map.
After that, we read Life on a Plantation by Bobbie Kalman, followed by ...
... What Was the Underground Railroad? by Yona Zeldis McDonough ...
... Underground by Shane W. Evans ...
... and I Am Harriet Tubman by Grace Norwich.
We then watched this great video at, of an actress portraying an enslaved woman.

It was time for a project.  We decided to make a "Candle in a Cup," which the slaves would have made to travel in the darkness along the Underground Railroad.  We found this craft idea, and the instructions, at  It was actually very simple to make.  We used an old teacup that we bought for less than a dollar at Goodwill, some candle wax from the craft store, wicking, an aluminum can, a pot, water, and a craft stick.
First, we placed some of the wax chunks in the can and placed that in water in the pot.  We heated it slowly on the stove.
Meanwhile, we used the craft stick to wrap a cut of the wicking over the teacup, being sure the other end of the wick hit the bottom of the cup.
Once our wax had melted in the can, we carefully poured it into the cup.
Then, we let the wax cool and harden.
Once completely cool, we removed the craft stick, trimmed the wick, and we had our candle!
It worked beautifully!
We found a cool printable game online called "Underground Railroad Quilt Code Game" at  We printed out the pieces and set out to play!
Maggie chose to be Harriet Tubman.  I played Frederick Douglass.
She beat me by a landslide!  I guess that's what happens when you're Harriet Tubman!
Two years ago, when we traveled through South Carolina, we stopped at the South Carolina Cotton Museum in Bishopville.  It was a neat place!  While there, I picked up a few things in their gift shop that I knew would be great for our homeschooling.  For this book study, those items came in handy.
One of the things I purchased was this book, Plantation Row: Slave Cabin Cooking: The Roots of Soul Food by Patricia B. Mitchell.  We read through its pages and chose two recipes to make, "Limping Susan," and "Molasses Cake" (pages 22 and 30, respectively).
For the "Limping Susan," we needed okra.  As we cut the okra, we noted that it reminded us of the North Star, the star that the "Drinking Gourd" (Big Dipper) pointed to for the travelers on the Underground Railroad.  Neat!
Here is our "Limping Susan," in the works!
Almost done!
Meanwhile, we got started on the "Molasses Cake,"
Maggie thought the smell was awful.  Having no sugar, many slaves used only molasses to sweeten their food.  This cake recipe takes a whole cup of the stuff and the smell was strong.
For dinner that night, we had chicken and corn to go with our "Limping Susan," as those were two items what were easier to come by back then.  (There was plenty of both to go around.)  Maggie loved the "Limping Susan" and asked for seconds!
The "Molasses Cake"?  Not so much.  She didn't like it at all.  That much molasses tastes a lot like black licorice and the density and dryness of the cake combined with the taste was a no-go for her.  She did, however, understand now how blessed she is to have sugar and frosting with her cakes!
In the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd," a quail calls to signal the time to travel.  We also see a quail calling in the book.  We went to to hear what a quail sounds like.
Of course, we couldn't row this book without studying stars and constellations!  We found a neat idea at, using watercolor over crayon-made stars and star stickers to create a night sky.  I challenged her to add the "Drinking Gourd" to her scene.  Here, she is painting a watercolor wash over her paper.
Once dry, we peeled away our stickers and our "Drinking Gourd" was revealed!  We connected the dots to make the constellation more clear.
It turned out great!
Finally, we talked a bit more about cotton, as that was one of the main crops in the south that were tended to by slaves on plantations.  In our last row, we visited a field of cotton.
Here, Mags is in a truck with her Daddy, filled with cotton seed, on that same farm.
Once home, in this row, we investigated cotton a little further with a cotton stalk I bought at Hobby Lobby.  We felt each boll for its cotton seed and talked about how the cotton was harvested.
Then, we investigated this bag of seed cotton that I purchased from the museum.
We removed a few of the seeds.

Then, we felt the difference between the seed cotton in the first bag and this hand-picked cotton in our second bag, also purchased from the museum gift shop.  This cotton is almost a hundred years old.
What a fun row!  How we love FIAR!

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