“Don’t you hate them, Momma?” Addy asked.
“No, I don’t hate white people,” Momma answered. “Honey, if you fill your heart with hate, there ain’t gonna be no room for love. Your brother and Poppa need us to fill our hearts with love for them, not hate for white people.”Connie Porter, Meet Addy
Last week I was sick and read alot, during which time I finished Meet Addy: An American Girl by Connie Porter and illustrated by Melodye Rosales, Renée Graef, and Luann Roberts. This is the first book in the Addy series from American Girl (called the Pleasant Company when it was first released) and focuses on a young girl escaping from slavery with her mother during the Civil War.
This is a very dark story and some pretty horrific things happen to the characters. Much more than you would expect from a book designed to pair with a pretty doll. But the American Girls were designed to give modern kids a window into what it was like to be a girl in different parts of history, so the darkness can’t really fairly be left out. Life as a plantation slave in the south during the Civil War years was pretty dark and the journey to escape even more so.
“There ain’t no choice, honey. I never thought Master Stevens would break up our family after your poppa and me served him our whole life. But I was wrong.” Momma shook her head. “After what he done, Addy, I can’t keep you safe here no more. I’m scared that man who bought Sam and your poppa might come back for you. I can’t stop him if he do. I ain’t gonna sit here and wait for him or anybody to come take you from me.”Connie Porter, Meet Addy
I liked how instead of making the horror the focus, this book stayed squarely focused on the family and their love for each other. Yes, awful things were happening, but that was never their whole world. For Addy and her family, as much as they definitely feel the human rights issues at hand, freedom is more about being together and safe than it is about anything else. They don’t decide to run away because being a slave is awful, they decide it’s time to risk running because they are being separated and they fear further separation. Humans can endure a lot, but for Addy and her family, clearly being separated is the breaking point. And I think that was true for a lot of people throughout history, so I really appreciate that it was the focus here.
Another element that I love about this book is the sidebars and the backmatter. Throughout the book there are little images set to the side of the text, often with simple captions, illustrating things in the text that modern readers might not be familiar with or that are significant somehow. There might be an image of a whip or the worms that had to be picked off of cotton plants, all set seamlessly into the pages to help readers without pulling them out of the story or calling undo attention to the objects. At the back of the book is a section called “Looking Back” about what American slavery was like in 1864 and giving details and historical images of what the facts behind the story were. It’s a great piece of extra material that does a beautiful job of helping to set the story in appropriate historical context.
It’s been a long time since I read this series and I wasn’t sure what to expect on rereading it, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it has held up and how respectfully it treats both its subject and its audience. I wish I found historical fiction like this more often that does such a good job of making the topic relatable and enjoyable, but also without flinching away from the darkness of the time and place.
I am a little sad that this book in this form is no longer in print, but I hope that the brilliance of it has been retained in the repackagings and combinations that have taken place over the years. I do think the illustrations are gone from recent editions, which is a great shame, since they add a lot to the book. Still, old editions of it can be found and there’s always hope that the publisher will return to printing it intact again!
- Illustrator Melodye Rosales’ Website
- Illustrator Renée Graef’s Website
- American Girl Addy Page
- Addy at the American Girl Wiki
- A Brief Overview of the American Civil War
- Slavery in America
- The Underground Railroad