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Twelve-year-old Little Charlie is anything but little. With a man’s stature and a boy’s heart, he struggles as he takes on work and roles that stretch his strength and resolve.

In 1858, Little Charlie’s family is eking out a living as sharecroppers in Possum Moan, South Carolina. Life is harsh; discrimination against poor whites and slaves is rife; and social status is fixed. When Little Charlie’s father dies in an accident, the family’s predicament goes from bad to worse.

Soon after, Cap’n Buck, a slave catcher and infamously violent man, visits Little Charlie and his mother to collect a debt he claims is owed him by the boy’s deceased father. Though Little Charlie tries to resist, he has no alternative but to obey the captain’s bidding in order to repay the debt. On a journey fraught with danger and life-altering moral choices, Cap’n Buck and Little Charlie travel to Detroit and then into Canada.

Little Charlie has always been “a real big ponderer”; and the journey gives him much to mull over as he sees both the worst and the best in people. As he encounters the evil of systemic racism, he thinks about what his parents taught him, advice that proves useful as he resolves not to repeat past mistakes: “I wasn’t ‘bout to make however much time I had left living be a slow-moving train wreck.” Though Cap’n Buck has repeatedly twisted Scripture for his own purposes, Little Charlie recalls biblical truth: “I believe it do say somewhere in there that all human beings has souls.”

The Journey of Little Charlie is a worthy addition to author Christopher Paul Curtis’s other juvenile novels dealing with the Underground Railroad and the settlement of freed slaves in Canada. In the character of Little Charlie, young readers will discover a deeply affecting figure and role model who fought injustice despite personal limitations. Ages 9 and up. (Scholastic Press)

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