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Across the Wide River Review by Kathy Gelzer

Stephanie Reed
Kregel Publications
PO Box 2607
Grand Rapids, MI 49501

Across the Wide River is a 176-page historical novel about the Underground Railroad. It follows the Rankin family, particularly Lowry Rankin, from the time he is 9 years old through early adulthood. Early on, Lowry learns of his family's involvement in helping slaves find their way north to freedom, and he soon finds himself having an active part in the process. This is a coming-of-age novel in which Lowry struggles with shyness, bullying, his faith, and the direction his life should take. It is labeled "teen fiction," and I'm sure most teens and preteens would be able to relate to Lowry's internal dialog. I, as an adult, thoroughly enjoyed the book. There is even a bit of romance, but nothing to put off a male reader. It is all tastefully, well-written Christian fiction. The reader has the satisfaction of seeing Lowry emerge a secure man who knows he is doing God's will. The backdrop of the Underground Railroad in Ohio and Kentucky makes for an exciting and educational setting.

In the author's note, Stephanie Reed states that although this is a work of fiction, it is based on a real family whose actual descendants provided her with helpful information. This she added to her years of library research in writing the book. Many of the characters are real, but their names have sometimes been changed. Stephanie Reed learned about the Rankin family when she was a child passing through Ripley on the way to her grandparents' home. Reading signs there about the Rankin home sparked the flame that led her to write Across the Wide River. "I have not written the history of the Rankins, but the story of the Rankins," she writes.

Be sure to include this book in your history studies of this time period. It would make a great read-aloud as well as an important independent read for older elementary children and teenagers.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2007