McKissack Book: Black Hands, White Sails

March 3, 2009

We’re going to start featuring assorted books from the Fred and Patricia McKissack collection; the first one we’re showcasing is Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and is a 2000 Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

In an article with Scholastic, Pat shared, “We’ve written extensively about slavery in America, but I never realized how important free black sailors were to the Underground Railroad and to the abolitionist movement. They’ve helped in more ways than we can imagine.”

From Kirkus Reviews (on
…a well-written, historical account of African-Americans who sailed on whaling ships off the East Coast between 1730 and 1880. The whaling industry provided great opportunities for free black seaman (and runaway slaves), many of whom could not find jobs elsewhere. The McKissacks note that during the “golden age” of whaling in the early 19th century, African-Americans comprised one-quarter of the crews; after the Civil War, their ranks swelled to half of all whalers… Another thread of this fascinating history is the story of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad for the Nantucket and New Bedford whalers.


  • Reading level: Ages 4-8
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0590483137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0590483131

2 Responses to “McKissack Book: Black Hands, White Sails”

  1. CMae Akousia said

    I accidentally found this book at the library on Saturday. I was looking for something else and the title caught my attention. I started reading and before I knew it I had read the entire book in four days. I just could not put it down. I enjoyed reading about the history of North America. When I got to a page that spoke about Brooklyn I was so proud because I live in Brooklyn, New York. Reading about the life of Paul Cuffee was very interesting because I had heard of him before from someone who said his family bought a hotel near my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I know I want to read more about African American whalers and the ships they sailed. I never ever knew anything about black men on the ship with Moby Dick the famous whale hunter. But this book had more than stories about whale fishing or whale hunting, this book was about important people like Frederick Douglas , Crispus Attucks and a place call Nantucket. This book really made me think about American history a lot more. Thank you for writing such an interesting story. I am going to share this story with my two grand sons. I really liked the way the writers placed important people inside the whaling and fishing business and industry. I never realized how important whale oil and a harpoon was until I read this book.

  2. Xianna Rivas said

    this book is so good i think if people read this book they would look at things really different!

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