Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Winter’s story begins with a peg-leg sailor who aids slaves on their escape on the Underground Railroad. While working for plantation owners, Peg Leg Joe teaches the slaves a song about the drinking gourd (the Big Dipper). A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song’s directions.

A couple, their son, and two others make their escape by following the song’s directions. Rich paintings interpret the strong story in a clean, primitive style enhanced by bold colors. The rhythmic compositions have an energetic presence that’s compelling. A fine rendering of history in picture book format.

Story Reading Strategy

Talk about the book and the main characters, Peg Leg Joe, Molly, James, Isaiah, Old Hattie and George. What do we know about slavery in the United States? Talk about the Underground Railroad and railroad terminology. Can anyone name another famous escape slave who used the Underground Railroad to gain freedom?

While reading the book, think about the experiences of the story’s main characters. How do they connect or how do they know each other?

Essential Educational Elements

In reading this story and engaging in a fun learning activity, young readers will build reading skills, develop critical thinking skills, and make connections between characters in stories and real people.

  • Slavery: the practice of owning people as property.
  • Underground Railroad: secret routes and methods that slaves took to escape to freedom.

Artist – Leon Bibb: Recorded Fall 1962, as part of Harry Belafonte’s monumental “Long Road to Freedom” project. It was not released until 2001.

*Note that this is the only version based directly on the Parks original. Leon’s son Eric has also recorded a version of the song.,Leon.FollowTheDrinkingGourd.mp3


When the Sun comes back
And the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd

The riverbank makes a very good road.
The dead trees will show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on,
Follow the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills
Follow the drinking gourd.
There’s another river on the other side
Follow the drinking gourd.

When the great big river meets the little river
Follow the drinking gourd.
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

Draw an illustration inspired by the book or song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

Title: Follow the Drinking Gourd

Author: Jeanette Winter

Illustration: Jeanette Winter

Copyright: Reprint edition (January 15, 1992)

Publisher: Dragonfly Books