The Good Lord Bird

GLB  4W, 4H  —  Audio Book

McBride, James. (p.2014, c.2013). The Good Lord Bird. Penguin Audio. 12 audio discs (14 hr., 36 min.). $59.99.  Read by Michael Boatman.

ISBN #: 9781624067105

Reviews:    New York Times Book Review    NPR article


This fictional memoir tells the adventures of a slave boy, mistaken for a girl, who runs with Abolitionist John Brown, from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry.


Henry Shackleford narrates the tale of his days in 1857 Kansas Territory when he was kidnapped by the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, mistaken for a girl and unintentionally became John Brown’s good luck charm nicknamed Little Onion.  Realizing that he had better chances of survival maintaining his identity as a girl, Little Onion’s adventures with John Brown’s army spans 2 years, taking him from Kansas to Missouri to Canada and ultimately to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  And although the horror of slavery is apparent, McBride relates it through the eyes of an older Henry Shackleford who was caught up in the adventure while growing up midst all the chaos and uncertainty that plagued the country at that time.


Michael Boatman skillfully brings to life the characters that James McBride created to tell the story of John Brown’s notorious army and bloody drive to eradicate freedom for the slaves.  Humor and a wide-eyed,  naive outlook, as only a 12 year old slave boy could have, bring this story to life and captures the brutality, turmoil and confusion in these pre-Civil War days.  Reminiscent of Mark Twain, McBride’s writing allows Boatman to use the diction and vocabulary of the 1850’s to effectively represent each character.  John Brown’s affinity for prayer and quoting the bible are well represented in this presentation leaving the listener with a clear picture of the Abolitionist and the mission on which he believed God had sent him.  Little Onion’s forays into saloon life, gathering up an army, avoiding romantic interludes and learning about life as a girl through a boy’s eyes keeps the reader engaged and eager for more.  A definite addition to any collection.


Historical Fiction/Western


Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, Flash for Freedom by George MacDonald Fraser


National Book Award for Fiction – 2013

New York Times Bestseller List

A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

Book Discussion Questions:

What is your favorite “Onionism” when he/she describes John Brown?

How did you react to the language/colloquialism of the book?  Was it difficult to follow, believable, kept you entertained?

How does the Prologue set the tone for the book?

Why do you think James McBride chose this title for the story?

Reasons for selection:

This was part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books That Make Great Gifts” ALA presentation.  She described it as being a western, a genre I hadn’t picked up in a while.  I was intrigued with the idea of learning more about John Brown and I’m so glad that I chose it.