This book about Ona Judge that your students will want to read!

 Are you looking for a good book to keep your students reading?  This Young Readers Edition of Erica Armstrong Dunbar's book tells a little-known story about some well-known people.  

Your students probably have not heard of Ona Judge.  But they have heard about George and Martha Washington.

Ona was born into slavery because her mother was enslaved by Daniel Parke Custis, Martha Washington's first husband.  When Martha remarried George Washington, she brought all of her slaves into that marriage.

Ona became an excellent seamstress and a personal attendant to Martha, so she lived in their home and went wherever Martha went.  She traveled with her from Mount Vernon to New York, and then to Philadelphia when George Washington became President.  If Martha was invited to attend a function, Ona went with her.  If George and Martha hosted a dinner or party, Ona was there.  When Martha needed to dress, Ona helped her.

It was in Philadelphia that Ona became friendly with some of the free blacks who lived there. Philadelphia had a large community of free blacks compared to other cities; it was probably there that she formed her plans to leave, risking her life to escape to New Hampshire.

She lived always looking over her shoulder, (correctly) assuming that the Washingtons would try to get her back.  That happened on several occasions, and each time, she was able to outwit or flee from being captured.  Ona eventually married and had four children. Her life was never easy, but she knew her freedom was worth it.

Reading this narrative nonfiction book gives students an excellent understanding of the pace of life in the late 1700s and the expectations of the First Family.  Starting with the day she runs away and working backward (and then forwards), this is a book that is hard to put down!  

Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve do something brilliant in the writing of the book.  They wonder.  Using what resources they had about enslaved people, they wondered if Ona might have reacted this way, or if she might have questioned that thought.  The result is that you have an "up close and personal" view of life with the First Family.  

I think this book would be an excellent addition to upper elementary and middle school libraries.  It presents a balanced approach to a difficult topic, showing Ona's thoughts about being free and contrasting them with the times.  It also showed how George's views about slavery were being challenged over his lifetime.

  • Want to make your life easier if you have students read this book?  This nonfiction study guide (digital and pdf) creates multiple opportunities for students to explore within (and expand their knowledge beyond) the pages of this book!

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