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In sparse, rhyming verse, author Carole Boston Weatherford relates for children the story of John Newton’s life and why he wrote the renowned hymn “Amazing Grace.”

In 1748, the Greyhound, a slave ship on which John worked, was caught in a fierce storm. Even as he feared for his life, he remembered his childhood: his mother teaching him hymns of praise and how to pray, and then how he left behind the Christian faith when his mother died. He and his father—a captain—had set out to sea.

As the storm raged, John remembered God and prayed that he would spare the ship. And God did: “Greyhound tugged by unseen hand, \ Crew at long last glimpses land.\ Safe at home, brought through the storm, \ Young John Newton is reborn.”

Though Newton later captained his own slave ship, he eventually became convinced of the evil of slavery and actively opposed it. When he became a minister, he penned 280 hymns, the most well-known being “Amazing Grace.”

Such was the power of the hymn that it was sung in different historical settings, especially where people experienced hardship and oppression: by Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, by African-American slaves, and by soldiers who fought in various wars.

Illustrator Frank Morrison’s large, bold paintings capture the drama of John Newton’s life. They also reveal the agony, fear, and pain of slavery, and the joy, healing, and victory proclaimed in the verses of “Amazing Grace.”

Though recommended for children 4-8, this moving, enlightening children’s picture book deals with a difficult subject and seems better suited for children age 7 and up. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

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