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Sophia Scrooby Preserved

Author: Martha Bacon. Illustrated by David Omar White
Series: Puffin Story Books
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 220p. : ill
Notes: This is an important book in the Puffin Story Book series in terms of the series’ engagement with a range of historical circumstances. It also indicates an extension of the genres that feature a central female character in the series. The novel is written by American author Martha Bacon (1917-1981), a ‘teacher, poet, novelist for adults and children, and editor for Atlantic Monthly and other magazines’ (Helbig and Perkins 35). The book is described as a ‘boisterous, romantic historical novel about the late eighteenth-century adventures of the daughter of an African chieftan who is bought and raised by a genteel American Tory family [and] is told with the sophisticated wit in the florid style of the period’ (Helbig and Perkins 35). Though the book can be described as an historical novel, in many ways it does not engage with the realities of slavery. The novel describes the horrors of the Middle Passage, and the later journey when Pansy, as she is most frequently referred to in the novel, is sold into slavery again. However, the book mostly focuses on her good life with the Scrooby family. Pansy’s later escape from slavery is also central, a trope noted as a typical feature of contemporary picture books about slavery (Connolly). The Scrooby family teach her how to read and sew, and introduce her to the principles of the Calvinist religion, baptising her Sophia Cecilia Scrooby, after the goodness of her character has been proclaimed by Mr Scrooby. The novel presents America as infinitely better than her life in south-east Africa; Pansy notes how there are not so many books in Africa, and none for children, while in America there are more than enough books for everyone (72). When the Scrooby family go bankrupt, Pansy is sold back into slavery but sees herself as more fortunate than the black children she sees being sold by their mother and thinks herself ‘infinitely more fortunate than these poor people’ as her family did not ‘willingly’ send her. Pansy is sold to a woman named Madam Melanie who proclaims herself the ‘Queen of the Dead’ but she later manages to escape with an English Captain who brings her to London. From when Pansy is sold again, her central quest is to make money to return to the Scrooby family in their new home in Canada, in a narrative decision that presents Pansy’s life with a kind white American family as better than life with her own family in south-east Africa. The book ends with Pansy being reunited with the Scrooby family as ‘the snows of Christ’s Nativity drifted softly over the fields and woods and pastures of New England’ (220).
[Ciara Gallagher].
Helbig, Alethea and Perkins, Agnes. Dictionary of American Children’s Fiction, 1960-1984. Recent Books of Recognized Merit. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986.
Connolly, Paula T. Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013.
Subject: Race, Colonialism, Representation of Nations and Nationalities, Gender, Moral, Genre, Religion, Slavery, Middle Passage, South-east Africa, America, England, Escape
Language: English
Original price: United Kingdom 25p; Australia $0.75; New Zealand $0.75
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE