Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s
Robert Smalls: The Boat Thief
Illustrated by Patrick Faricy
About the book:
On a moonlit night in the spring of 1862, a group of slaves stole one of the Confederacy’s most crucial gunships from its wharf in the South Carolina port of Charleston and delivered it to the Federal Navy. This audacious and intricately coordinated escape, masterminded by a twenty-four-year-old black sailor named Robert Smalls, astonished the world and exploded the Confederate claim that Southern slaves did not crave freedom or have the ability to take decisive action.
Robert Small’s heroic career had only begun. A brilliant military strategist, he was quickly promoted to the rank of captain in the Federal Navy, where he served fearlessly in many critical battles. Not only was Smalls a great soldier, he was also a powerful activist, whose eloquent appeal to Abraham Lincoln convinced the president to enlist 5,000 former slaves in the Union armed forces, shattering the color barrier that had kept black men out. Smalls drew great crowds as a spokesman for the abolitionist cause, and his fame as a man of outstanding character inspired the broad public support that encouraged Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Smalls also served six terms in the United States Congress.
In this moving picture book, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tells the story of another great American hero, a man whose dedication to the cause of freedom gave him courage in the face of extraordinary dangers.
About the author:
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, president of Waterkeeper Alliance, and a professor at Pace University Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic. He has written two books for adults and two other books for children, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life of Joy and Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War, the first in his series of “American Heroes” biographies. He lives with his wife and children in West Chester County, New York.
About the illustrator:
Patrick Faricy is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He has illustrated several children’s books, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines. He lives with his wife and three children in a suburb of Saint Paul, Minnesota.
How could a boat thief be an American hero? What type of person do you think Robert Smalls is? Why?
- Why do you think Robert Small’s mother taught her son about the cruelties of slavery? What else did he learn from his mother?
- Explain how Robert learned to sail. Who profited from his skills and hard labor? How would your feel if you could only keep 1/16 of what you earned each month?
- Why was The Planter such a pivotal ship to the Confederate army? What else did Robert Smalls know that would serve the Union army that he learned while a slave?
- Why did Smalls choose the early hours of May 13, 1862 to execute his plan? Explain the steps in preparing the crew and families for the adventure.
- List the steps Smalls had to take to deliver the Planter to Federal navy. Which part do you think was most dangerous?
- How did Lincoln reward Robert Smalls and his crew for their bravery? What was the Confederate response to the loss of the Planter?
- Why was Robert Smalls promoted to captain on Morris Island? Why was this such a distinction?
- Explain how Smalls was instrumental in shattering the color barrier in military service. How else did he serve President Lincoln?
- What event prompted Philadelphia to decide to integrate their streetcars? What modern example of civil disobedience does this remind you of?
- Describe how Smalls served the people of South Carolina after the war. How did he show that he was not bitter from slavery or his mistreatment by white supremacists?
- How did South Carolina and other southern states lose ground in equality and freedom after the Civil War? How did Robert Smalls combat this movement?
- Which illustration in the book is your favorite depiction of Robert Small’s heroic life? Why do you think the illustrator chose the pallet of colors that he did?
Create a timeline of Robert Smalls’s life based on the book by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Add important political dates to your timeline too (like the beginning and end of the Civil War). Add at least three pictures or illustrations to your timeline.
Research the cost of common goods and land just after the Civil War. How much was Robert Smalls’s reward worth? Calculate what that same money would be equivalent to today.
Fill out the following chart wit details from the story which show how Robert Smalls was intelligent, courageous, and action-oriented. Then, give examples of how you might show the same qualities in your own life.
Write an episode of heroism from a modern-day hero. Use Robert Smalls: Boat Thief as a mentor text. What qualities of good writing are used in the story that you can apply to your own writing? How does Kennedy “show not tell” important information? How does he include important information without losing his reader?