October 29, 2010
Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle
by Tim Tingle
illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
When Martha Tom’s mother sends her off to find blackberries to have at the wedding feast later that day, the Choctaw girl looks and looks but can’t find a single berry. So she decides to do the forbidden. She crosses the Bok Chitto River to the side where the big plantations lay, worked by slaves.
Martha Tom finds a wealth of berries and she picks and picks. But when she tries to return home she looses her way and wanders farther from the river. She accidentally spies on the forbidden Slave Church where she is caught by a kindly man who sends his son, Little Mo, to guide her home.
Martha Tom repays his kindness by showing him the way across the river. Before long, friendship develops between the two children with Martha Tom visiting the plantation side of the river every Sunday to attend the slave church.
Then one day Little Mo’s mother is sold. As the tearful adults say their goodbyes, Little Mo reveals to his parents that there is a secret way to cross the river, if he can find it on his own. But Little Mo needn’t have worried. As soon as Mrs. Tom learns of his families danger, she rounds up the Choctaw women, led by Martha Tom and all come to their rescue.
As I’ve summarized it, this story sounds strictly historical but there is a deep spiritual element with the women posing as angels and the slaves passing almost invisible in front of armed men with dogs. Tingle first heard the story as part of a wedding song and adapted it into the form of this moving multicultural picture book.
This is a great book for sharing and discussion. The women don’t rescue the family with muscle or guns. They don’t skulk about. They dress in their finest and parade forward out of the fog.
This is an extremely moving story about friendship and family, love and trust and the power of belief. It also tells about the help given to many runaway slaves by Native people’s of the South.
Pick up this story for every quiet girl who needs to believe in her own strength.