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  • Written by Shelley Pearsall
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  • Trouble Don't Last
  • Written by Shelley Pearsall
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Written by Shelley PearsallAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Shelley Pearsall


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: December 18, 2008
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-307-54830-6
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
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Eleven-year-old Samuel was born as Master Hackler’s slave, and working the Kentucky farm is the only life he’s ever known—until one dark night in 1859, that is. With no warning, cranky old Harrison, a fellow slave, pulls Samuel from his bed and, together, they run.

The journey north seems much more frightening than Master Hackler ever was, and Samuel’s not sure what freedom means aside from running, hiding, and starving. But as they move from one refuge to the next on the Underground Railroad, Samuel uncovers the secret of his own past—and future. And old Harrison begins to see past a whole lifetime of hurt to the promise of a new life—and a poignant reunion—
in Canada.

In a heartbreaking and hopeful first novel, Shelley Pearsall tells a suspenseful, emotionally charged story of freedom and family. Trouble Don't Last includes a historical note and map.



Truth is, trouble follows me like a shadow.

To begin with, I was born a slave when other folks is born white. My momma was a slave and her momma a slave before that, so you can see we are nothing but a family of trouble. Master sold Momma before I was even old enough to remember her, and two old slaves named Harrison and Lilly had to raise me up like I was one of their own, even though I wasn't. Then, when I was in my eleventh year, the old slave Harrison decided to jump into trouble himself, and he tried to run away.

Problem was, I had to go with him.


It all started on a just-so day in the month of September 1859, when I broke my master's plate while clearing the supper table. I tried to tell Lilly that if Master Hackler hadn't taken a piece of bread and sopped pork fat all over his old plate, I wouldn't have dropped it.

But Lilly kept her lips pressed tight together, saying nothing as she scraped the vegetable scraps into the hog pails.

"And Young Mas Seth was sticking his foot this-away and that-away, tryin to trip me up," I added.

Lilly didn't even look at me, just kept scraping and scraping with her big, brown hands.

"Maybe it was a spirit--could be Old Mas Hackler's dead spirit--that got ahold of me right then and made that plate fly right outta my hands."

Lilly looked up and snorted, "Spirits. If Old Mas Hackler wanted to haunt this house, he'd go an' turn a whole table on its end, not bother with one little china plate in your hands." She pointed her scraping knife at me. "You gotta be more careful, Samuel, or they gonna sell you off sure as anything, and I can't do nothin to help you then. You understand me, child?"

"Yes'm," I answered, looking down at my feet. Every time Lilly said something like this to me, which was more often than not, it always brought up the same picture in my head. A picture of my momma. She had been sold when I was hardly even standing on my own two legs. Right after the Old Master Hackler had died. Lilly said that selling off my momma paid for his fancy carved headstone and oak burying box, but I'm not sure all that is true.

In my mind, I could see my momma being taken away in the back of Master's wagon, just the way Lilly told me. Her name was Hannah, and she was a tall, straight-backed woman with gingerbread skin like mine. Lilly said that she was wearing a blue-striped headwrap tied around her hair, and she was leaning over with her head down in her hands when they rode off. The only thing Lilly knew was that they took her to the courthouse in Washington, Kentucky, to sell her.

After my momma had gone, it had fallen on Lilly's shoulders to raise me as if I was her own boy, even though she wasn't any relation of mine and she'd already had two sons and four daughters, all sold off or dead. But she said I had more trouble in me than all six of her children rolled up together. "I gotta be on your heels day and night," she was always telling me. "And even that don't keep the bad things from happening."

When she was finished with the hog pails, Lilly came over to me. "How's that chin doin?" She lifted the cold rag I'd been holding and looked underneath. "Miz Catherine got good aim, I give her that."

After I had broken the china plate, Master Hackler's loud, redheaded wife, Miz Catherine, had flung her table fork at me. "You aren't worth the price of a broken plate, you know that?" she hollered, and sent one of the silver forks flying. Good thing I had sense enough not to duck my head down, so it hit right where she was aiming, square on my chin. Even though it stung all the way up to my ear, I didn't make a face. I was half-proud of myself for that.

"You pick up every little piece," Miz Catherine had snapped, pointing at the floor. "Every single piece with those worthless, black fingers of yours, and I'll decide what to do about your carelessness."

After that, Lilly had come barreling in to save me. She had helped me sweep up the white shards that had flown all over, and she told Miz Catherine that she would pay for the plate. Master usually gave Lilly a dollar to keep every Christmas. "What you think that plate cost?" Lilly asked Miz Catherine as she swept.

"How much do you have?" Miz Catherine sniffed.

"Maybe $4 saved up."

"Then I imagine it will cost you $4."

So the redheaded devil Miz Catherine had taken most of Lilly's savings just for my broken plate--although, truth was, Lilly really had $6 tucked away. And she had given me a banged-up chin. But, as Lilly always said, it could have been worse.

Then we heard Master Hackler's heavy footsteps coming down the hall. He walks hard on his heels, so you can always tell him from the others.

"You be quiet as a country graveyard," Lilly warned. "And gimme that cloth." Quick as anything, she snatched the cloth from my chin and began wiping a plate with it.

"Still cleaning up from supper?" Master Hackler said, peering around the doorway. "Samuel's made you mighty slow this evening, Lilly."

"Yes, he sho' has." Lilly kept her head down and wiped the plates in fast circles. "But I always git everything done, you know. Don't sleep a wink till everything gits done."

From the Hardcover edition.
Shelley Pearsall

About Shelley Pearsall

Shelley Pearsall - Trouble Don't Last
A former teacher and museum historian, SHELLEY PEARSALL is now a full-time author. The idea for this novel began many years ago when she first saw outsider artist James Hampton’s amazing work at the Smithsonian. She was disappointed that so little is known about Hampton and was intrigued that his work was brought to light by anonymous sources. It was the perfect foundation for this redemptive, inspiring historical novel. Her first novel, Trouble Don’t Last, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. To learn more about the author and her work, visit ShelleyPearsall.com.
Praise | Awards


* “This memorable portrayal . . . proves gripping from beginning to end.”–Starred, Publishers Weekly

* “A thrilling escape story, right until the last chapter.”–Starred, Booklist

“Strong characters and an innovative, suspenseful plot distinguish Pearsall’s first novel . . . A compelling story.”–School Library Journal

“One of the best underground railroad narratives in recent years . . . This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Pearsall’s heartbreaking, yet hopeful story provides a fine supplement to lessons on slavery.”–Teacher Magazine


The 2003 Scott O’ Dell Award for Historical Fiction

A Booklist Top 10 First Novel

A Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth

From the Hardcover edition.


NOMINEE 2005 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award
WINNER 2003 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Samuel and Harrison, two slaves on a Kentucky farm, are in search of freedom and Samuel’s mother when they escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Set in Kentucky in 1859, eleven-year-old Samuel seems content with his life as a slave and his work in Master Hackler’s kitchen where he is under the watchful eye of Lilly, a fellow slave and mother figure. He wonders about freedom, but doesn’t understand what it really means until Harrison, an elderly slave, snatches him from his bed and takes him on a long journey to Canada. Together, the young boy and old man run at night and sleep in hiding places during the day. Though constantly on the alert for slave hunters, the two are helped by conductors on the Underground Railroad, including a river man who gets them across the Ohio River. Along the way, Harrison reveals an important secret about Samuel’s mother, and the two wonder about Lilly, who is back on Hackler’s farm, and what will happen to them when they reach Canada.


Shelley Pearsall is a former middle elementary school and middle school teacher, and the former historian for Hale Farm and Village, a 160-acre living-history museum in Ohio that re-creates mid-19th-century lives. Trouble Don’t Last, her first novel, won the prestigious Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and was also named a Booklist Editors’ Choice, a Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth and a Top Ten First Novel for Youth. The author lives in Brecksville, Ohio.



“I had reasoned dis out in my mind; There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; If I could not have one, I would have de oder.”–Harriet Tubman

Ask students to research the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman’s work to make the railroad a success. Then ask them to write a brief essay that interprets the above quote.

THEMATIC CONNECTIONS: Questions for Group Discussion

–Slaves were often separated from their real families, but they worked to create a traditional family structure. Who is Samuel’s family? How is Samuel’s relationship with Lilly different from his relationship with Harrison? Why is Samuel so worried about Lilly when he and Harrison are on the run? Describe Samuel’s feelings when Harrison gives him the gray yarn that belonged to his mother. How do you know that Harrison planned to someday tell Samuel the truth about his mother?

–Discuss how the River Jordan metaphor relates to freedom. (pp. 55—56) Harrison had run away once before, but was caught, beaten, and returned to Master Hackler. Ask the class to discuss why Harrison is so willing to run away again, especially knowing the consequences of being caught. At what point does Samuel know that Harrison is planning to take him and escape? What is Samuel’s idea of freedom? Discuss whether Harrison is looking for freedom for himself, or primarily for Samuel.

–Samuel says, “Truth is, even the thought of going straight to hell didn’t scare me as much as the thought of running away.” (p. 21) Discuss why Samuel goes with Harrison when he is so frightened by the thoughts of running away. Trace Samuel’s fears throughout the novel. How does Harrison help Samuel with his fears? At what point does Samuel begin to handle his fears? Ask students to name the characters in the novel who appear fearless.

–Discuss how courage is related to fear. Ask students to debate Samuel’s most courageous moment. There are people all along the way that help Samuel and Harrison. How does it take courage for these people to serve as guides on the Underground Railroad?

–Engage the class in a discussion about the survival techniques used by runaway slaves like Samuel and Harrison. How does the river man help Samuel develop survival skills? Explain the following warning from the river man: “Haste will always be your undoing. You wait and look for their weakness. Then you plan a way out.” (p. 92)

Prejudice–The Widow Taylor hides Samuel and Harrison in her cellar, but she won’t touch the coins their hands had touched. How is this an act of prejudice? Discuss what Harrison means when he tells Samuel, “Corn and crows, they don’t grow in the same field.” (p. 108) Who is the corn? Who are the crows? How does Harrison’s attitude reveal his prejudice?


Language Arts
–Shelley Pearsall uses similes to create certain images. For example, “He walked ahead, snapping branches like bones under his feet.” (p. 87) Ask students to find other similes in the novel. As an exercise, encourage them to replace Pearsall’s similes with their own.

Reverend Pry is writing a brief story about Samuel to tell to his congregation. He begins, “Our forty-fifth visitor was a boy named Samuel, eleven years of age.” (p. 122) Have students write out the beginning of Reverend Pry’s speech and then continue the story up to the point where Samuel and Harrison reach Canada. They should write the way they think Reverend Pry would have, keeping in mind the congregation audience. Encourage them to add illustrations and read their stories aloud.

Social Studies
–Among the people involved in the fight to end slavery were Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, William Lloyd Garrison, and Lucretia Mott. Ask each student to research the work of one of these activitists, and write a speech that he/she might have given.

The issues of slavery became the central focus of American politics in the 19th century. Ask students to research the major political issues regarding slavery such as the Black Codes, Emancipation Proclamation, Fugitive Slave Acts, Compromise of 1850, and the 13th Amendment. Have them construct a timeline that reveals the growing concerns about slavery during this time. Which politician is credited with ending slavery? How did issues of slavery continue into the 20th century?

–Samuel wonders how far he and Harrison have to go to get to freedom. Ask students to study the map of their journey. (p. 231) Then have them use a United States atlas and calculate the miles by today’s road system that Samuel and Harrison travel to reach freedom.

–Harrison becomes sick on the trip to Canada. At one point, he looks for an ax to put under the straw mattress to keep the chills away. (p. 111) Later, Belle mixes brandy and egg for Harrison’s fever and Samuel remembers Lilly remedy of boiling fence-grass and water. Ask students to investigate superstitions and health remedies, such as herbal remedies and folk cures. Make an illustrated booklet that explains these superstitions.

Drama–Big River is a musical play based on the friendship between Huckleberry Finn and the slave Jim. Play the soundtrack of Big River in class, and ask students to locate the lyrics to the songs “Muddy Water” and “The Crossin” at www.stlyrics.com/b/bigriver.htm. Suppose Trouble Don’t Last is being staged. Where in the production would Samuel and Harrison sing these two songs?

Music–Ask students to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to locate the popular Negro spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Have them perform the song for another class, and explain how the song directly refers to the Underground Railroad. Students may enjoy reading the lyrics of other Negro spirituals, which can be found at xroads.Virginia.edu/~HYPER/TWH/Higg.html.

Visual Arts–A common toy in the 19th century was clay marbles. Slave children often made their own marbles by rolling the clay and applying colored designs. Samuel had a set of clay marbles until Miz Catherine took them from him. Make a set of six clay marbles that Samuel might have made after he reached Canada. Apply designs that represent freedom.

Have students create chapter illustrations using visual elements and symbols from the


Ask students to make a list of unfamiliar words and try to define them taking clues from the context of the story. Such words may include: spindles (p. 8), commotion (p. 16), pinprick (p. 68), delirium (p. 70), harrow (p. 77), cravat (p. 122), humanity (p. 123), benevolence (p. 123), and constable (p. 223).


--Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
--A Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
--A Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth and Top Ten First Novel for Youth


*“Astonishing . . . a thrilling escape story.”–Starred, Booklist

*“Gripping from beginning to end.”–Starred, Publishers Weekly



History Channel
This site discusses the history of the Underground Railroad.

Official Site of Negro Spirituals
This site offers the history of Negro spirituals.

Shelley Pearsall’s Official Web Site
Includes tips for using Trouble Don’t Last in the classroom.


Gary Paulsen
Grades 5—9 / 0-440-21936-1
Hardcover 0-385-30838-8
Dell Laurel-Leaf / Delacorte Press

North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad
Gena K. Gorrell
Courage • Fear • Freedom
Survival • Family
Grades 5 up / Hardcover 0-385-32319-0
Delacorte Press

Stealing Freedom
Elisa Carbone
Courage • Fear • Freedom
Survival • Family
Grades 5 up / 0-440-41707-4
Dell Yearling


Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

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