Escape By Night is told by Tommy, a 10-year-old boy in Georgia during the Civil War. His father is a pastor whose church has been transformed into a temporary hospital to accommodate the large number of wounded Confederate soldiers returning from the front. When he sees an arriving soldier unwittingly drop a book in the street as he is being carried into the hospital, Tommy picks it up to return it to him. When Tommy realizes his new friend is, in fact, a Yankee soldier in disguise, he must make a decision whether to help the man escape to the North before he is discovered by the authorities or turn him in and watch him go to prison as an enemy.
With short chapters and easily accessible language Escape By Night serves as an introduction to historical topics such as the Civil War and moral topics such as slavery. There is a moment when Tommy’s new friend asks Tommy a question about slavery that Tommy puts into his 10-year-old logic and gets a simple and obvious answer:
“Do you think Henry wants to be free?” Red asked.
“Yes,” Tommy said, without hesitation. “Henry has someone telling him what to do all the time. I hate it when my sisters tell me what to do.”
An adult reader understands that slavery is a much deeper issue than just being told what to do, but for a young reader just learning about the concept of slavery and the Civil War, Tommy’s reasoning is easy to understand and identify with.
Tommy’s insight about using the principles we so often speak about using only words is also significant:
It wasn’t only for Red’s benefit that this had happened. IT was for Tommy, too. Just a few days ago mercy was something you talked ab out in church, not something you actually did.
This is a great way to show how beliefs can translate into action, rather than simply talk about them–which becomes important when having discussions with young readers about the relationship of stories to real life: what we can learn from them about ourselves and each other.
In summary, Escape By Night is a quick read that may work in classrooms (perhaps in conjunction with Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts–another 2016-17 Lovelace nominee about a young black girl in 1963 at the very beginning of school integration) as a springboard for history or social studies lessons. It may also provide a quick independent read for students in Grade 3 (or beginning of Grade 4).