Literature Connections

There are so many books that have been and continue to be published about the Underground Railroad. Some of my favorites:

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannette Winter (Knopf Books for Young Readers, reprinted Jan. 2008) is a great story for introducing the UGRR.
  • Read the notes about the story at the beginning to introduce some of the code words in the song.
  • Sing the verses as they appear in the story.
  • When Peg Leg Joe takes the fugitives across the river in a rowboat, mention John Parker, who lived in Ripley, Ohio. An escaped slave himself, he would cross over to Kentucky to bring escaping slaves to Ohio.
  • The house at the top of the hill where fugitives were hidden in a barn could refer to the John Rankin house in Ripley. Rankin would place a lighted candle or lantern in the back window to let escaped slaves know it was safe to come up the hill to his home.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (Dragonfly Books, 1995)

The Drinking Gourd by F.N. Monjo (HarperCollins, 1993)

...If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine (Scholastic, 1993)

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine (Scholastic, Jan. 2007) - a fictional account of Henry "Box" Brown, who mailed himself to freedom in a box.


Some of the websites have sound files embedded so visitors can hear the songs.

Appleseed Recordings has a CD of Underground Railroad songs, Steal Away: Songs of the Underground Railroad, by Kim & Reggie Harris.

Learn some of the songs yourself. Most can be found in elementary music textbooks or your music teacher may know them and can teach them to you. "Shoofly" is a ring game:
  • Make one large circle or several smaller circles, hands joined, facing in.
  • Pick one person to be the "leader."
  • As you sing the first verse, "Shoofly, don't bother me. Shoofly, don't bother me. Shoofly, don't bother me for I belong to somebody.", walk clockwise, holding hands.
  • As you sing the second verse, "I feel, I feel, I feel, I feel like a morning star.", one person leads the circle through the upraised arms of two people on the opposite side of the circle. This turns the circle "inside-out" so everyone is facing out.
  • Sing "Oh!" and hold it while everyone drops hands and jumps to face the center of the circle again.
  • Join hands and repeat the song with a new leader.

NOTE: Most classrooms aren't big enough for one huge circle. This works best with groups of 4 or 5.
  • It's easier to find space for smaller circles.
  • Everyone gets a turn to be the leader without having to sing the song 25 times!
  • You can "count off" the leaders before the singing starts. (Designate who is #1, #2, #3, etc.) Then just call out the leader's number as the song repeats.