Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Power of Music in a Women's Prison

Karr, Kathleen (2003). Gilbert & Sullivan: Set Me Free*. 226 pages. Grades 5-8.

Experience the power of music and the injustice of being an inmate during the the early 1900s at the Massachusetts Sherborn Prison for Women (SPW). Libby Dodge arrived at SPW in her finest of clothing, but her story or the reason why she ends up in prison does not surface until halfway through the story. She is soon befriended by another inmate, Ma McCreary, who stands up for her when the other women treat her unkindly. Fortunately, Libby's luck is about to change when Mrs. Wilkinson, the new chaplain, arrives at SPW. She is forming a women's choir and begins recruiting the inmates. The choir gives these women hope and acts as an escape from their dreary lives in prison. Mrs. Wilkinson hopes to reform the inmates through the power of music and for the most part she succeeds. The women put on a successful performance of Handel's Hallelujah choir and take on Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance. In the process, Libby and the other women's talents emerge, as they learn more about each other and the world around them.

Karr's story is wonderfully written. She portrays the harsh reality of life in a women's prison during the early 20th century using characters based on real women who made significant changes in the Massachusetts women's prison system.

*Request this book through interlibrary loan.

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