Gabriel's horses alison hart louisiana young readers’ choice nominee 2010

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Submitted by Elizabeth Borné, Student, LSU School of Library and Information Science Baton Rouge, LA
Gabriel's Horses by Alison Hart. Peachtree Publishers. 2007. 224 pages.

In this first book of the Racing to Freedom Trilogy, set in Kentucky against the backdrop of the Civil War, a young slave named Gabriel helps his father train horses on a farm. When his father joins the Union Army, Gabriel becomes responsible for protecting the horses. Gabriel, who turns out to be a talented jockey, is faced with many dangerous challenges as he fights for the home, family, and horses he loves.


Alison Hart is from Virginia and self-published her first book at the age of seven. She loves bringing history to life for her readers and has written several mysteries and historical suspense novels for young people. She is inspired by reading old journals, letters, and memoirs and teaches reading and writing to college students.

Sources of author information: and

  • Gabriel's Triumph. Peachtree Publishers. 2007. 164 pages. A thirteen-year-old newly-freed slave faces the challenges of freedom and horse racing as he pursues his dream of becoming a famous jockey in Civil War Kentucky and New York.

  • Gabriel's Journey. Peachtree Publishers. 2008.169 pages. Thirteen-year-old Gabriel, a former slave, leaves behind his life as a professional jockey and joins his father in the Fifth U.S. Colored Cavalry at Camp Nelson, Kentucky.

  • Shadow Horse. Random House. 1999. 230 pages. Thirteen-year-old Jas tries to prove that the owner of the farm where she works has killed her favorite horse, Whirlwind.

  • Fires of Jubilee. Aladdin Paperbacks. 2003. 185 pages. In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, thirteen-year-old Abby Joyner continues to live with her grandparents on the isolated Virginia plantation where she was raised, although they are now free. Abby's main concern is discovering what became of her mother, who disappeared when Abby was a baby.

Sources of summaries: Library of Congress Catalog and WorldCat.


  • Black Storm Comin' by Diane Lee Wilson. Margaret K. McElderry Books. 2005. 295 pages. Twelve-year-old Colton, son of a black mother and a white father, takes a job with the Pony Express in 1860 after his father abandons the family on their California-bound wagon train and risks his life to deliver an important letter that may affect the growing conflict between the North and South.

  • Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. HarperCollins. 2001. 241 pages. After his anger erupts into violence, Cole, in order to avoid going to prison, agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative based on the Native American Circle Justice, and he is sent to a remote Alaskan Island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life.

  • The Trap by John Smelcer. Henry Holt. 2006. 170 pages. In alternating chapters, Johnny Least-Weasel, who is better known for brains than brawn, worries about his missing grandfather, and the grandfather, Albert Least-Weasel, struggles to survive, caught in his own steel trap in the Alaskan winter.

  • Slaves to Soldiers: African American Fighting Men in the Civil War by Wallace B. Black. F. Watts. 1998. 63 pages. Explores the circumstances of African-Americans who fought in the Civil War, including slaves, free southerners, and northerners.

Source of summaries: Library of Congress Catalog.
This book provides opportunities for classroom connections in several subjects, including language arts, social studies, music, science, math, drama, and art.
Language Arts:

  • This lesson plan from PBS focuses on the poetry of Walt Whitman as related to the Civil War. It includes several ideas for classroom activities on his poetry:

  • This lesson plan from PBS is on Civil War letters. It could be tied into the letter that Gabriel's father writes to him and his mother when he is at Camp Nelson. It includes several classroom activities related to letter writing:; have students write their own letters, either as Gabriel or Ma to Pa, or as Pa to Gabriel and Ma.

  • This site provides numerous vocabulary terms and definitions related to horses and horseracing:

  • This site from Scholastic provides a web activity where students visit different sites about horses in order to complete a crossword puzzle about horses:

  • The book begins in the middle of a scene where Gabriel is helping his dad wrap a racehorse's leg. Use this opening to discuss the literary technique of in medias res.

Social Studies:

  • In this educational booklet from the Kentucky Derby museum, pages 5-10 focus on early American racing & the African American experience. It includes questions for discussion and activity ideas:

  • Here are several Civil War-era recipes that teachers or students could prepare to share with the class a way of "getting a taste of history:" Each recipe requires the use of an oven or stove.

  • This extensive lesson plan from the Library of Congress covers "The Civil War through a Child's Eye":

  • Consider a field trip to a museum that features civil war memorabilia, a historical Civil War site, or even tour a local plantation. Investigate what points of interest are in your area.

    • In Baton Rouge, there is the Louisiana State Museum (, which features a Civil War section and a real Civil War submarine.

    • The Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism lists State Historic Sites here, many of which are associated with the Civil War:


  • Gettysburg National Military Park's Civil War Page for Kids provides background information on the music of the Civil War as well as lyrics and links to specific songs: A computer with speakers is needed to play the audio for students.


  • This book can be related to science class through the study of the anatomy of horses. See these diagrams of a horse's and human's skeletal systems:

  • Here is an interactive quiz about a horse's digestive system:

  • Here is an interactive quiz on horse teeth and human teeth:

  • Here is a diagram of how a horse's ears work:

  • This page describes the differences between horse's eyes and human eyes:


  • This page provides instructions and an activity on how to measure a horse:


  • This is a "Reader's Theater adaptation" of the book. It takes approximately five minutes to act out and calls for 9 readers/narrators:

  • This lesson plan provides ideas on dramatizing characters and events at Camp Nelson:


  • This Library of Congress American Memory site features photographs of African American soldiers during the Civil War: Have students analyze these photographs using a photograph analysis worksheet ( or Discuss the difference between artistic photographs and historical photographs; can they be one and the same?

  • This is an activity on designing jockey silks (the hat and jacket worn by jockeys):

  • Create hand-sculpted clay models of the novel's different horses in art class.


  1. Gabriel describes his father and Jackson as men who know horses better than themselves. What do you think he means by this? Have you ever felt that kind of special connection with an animal? If so, what kind of animal, and what kinds of things did you "know" about the animal? What made your connection special?

  1. Why do you think Aristo, the wild colt, is Gabriel's favorite horse? What clues does this give readers about Gabriel's character traits, and what are some specific examples of how these traits are reflected throughout the story? If you could choose, would you rather work with a wild horse or a calm horse, and why?

  1. Annabelle and Gabriel like to tease and mock each other. Why do you think young men and women act this way around each other? Can you think of characters who behave similarly in other books, TV shows, or movies?

  1. Some people in Kentucky fought for the Union, while some were loyal to the Confederacy. What do you think it would be like to live in a state divided into opposite sides during a war today?

  2. When Gabriel hears the African American soldiers singing around the campfire, he wishes he could be a soldier, too. Why do you think Gabriel has this strong urge to join the Union Army at only 12 years old? Can you relate to his desire to join a cause? What causes would you fight for, if you could?

  1. Why do you think Gabriel makes the decision he does at the end of the book? Would you do the same thing? If not, what would you do? What adventures do you think await Gabriel in the next two books of the trilogy?


  • Gabriel's Horses

This is the publisher's official site for the book. It includes brief author information and review excerpts.

African American Jockeys

  • African Americans in the Derby

This site features the history of African American jockeys, trainers, and owners at the Kentucky Derby.

  • African Americans in the Sports Arena

This site focuses on African Americans in horse racing history, including jockeys and trainers.

  • The Remarkable Ride of Jimmy Wakefield

This is a National Public Radio feature on African American jockey Jimmy Wakefield. It includes a video clip about his return to the Kentucky Derby in 1961.

  • Black Jockey's Journey Spanned Different Worlds

This is an in-depth article about Jimmy Wakefield.

Camp Nelson

  • Camp Nelson

This is the official site of Camp Nelson, where Gabriel's father is stationed and which is now a Civil War Heritage Park. It includes photographs and a historical overview of the camp which features profiles of military leaders, elements of its particular historical significance, the regiments known to have been there, and information on its National Cemetery.

Horses and Horse Racing

  • Kentucky Horse Park: Just for Kids

This section of the Kentucky Horse Park page features extensive information about horses designed for young people, including flash presentations on horse breeds around the world, the history of the relationship between horses and humans, and an interactive quiz on horse knowledge.

  • The History of Horse Racing

This site outlines the history of horse racing from ancient to modern times.

  • The Legend of Seabiscuit

This is an online exhibit from the National Museum of Racing on the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.

Kentucky in the Civil War

  • Kentucky Educational Television:

This site provides an overview of Kentucky's role in the Civil War. It includes information on African American soldiers.

African American Soldiers in the Civil War

  • Library of Congress: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

This site provides information on African American soldiers in the Civil War as well as related photographs and documents.

  • National Park Service: History of African Americans in the Civil War

This site provides additional information on the history of African Americans during the Civil War, including a related quote by Frederick Douglass.

  • American Civil War Colored Troops Pictures and

This site features numerous photographs of African American soldiers during the Civil War.

This site provides numerous links to lesson plans on this topic.

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