I, Dred Scott

Written by Sheila P. Moses
Review by Ann Chamberlin

An easy-read young people’s version of the mid-nineteenth century Dred Scott case—in which the Supreme Court shamed itself by declaring that no one of African ancestry could be a citizen of the United States—is something history classrooms across the U.S. must greet with open arms. A foreword by John A. Madison, Jr., great-grandson of the misused slave, helps ground it in reality, as does the use of black English. The first-person narrative somewhat alleviates the lack of dialogue and concrete scenes, but mostly the devotion to history overwhelms fiction. Our narrating hero even loses his accent—as well as much of his urgency—when he bogs the reader down in “what Massa called” technical legal terms and the list of lawyers’ names without characterization. Maybe Mr. Scott hardly understood what was happening to him, but this doesn’t help the novice reader to understand. To explain further would have made the book of less use as a fifth grade reading assignment, I suppose, and drawn it out considerably. (Ages 9-12)