'Compelling read' transports reader back in time and history

East Lyme High School history teacher James Littlefield holds a copy of his book, "The Slave Catcher's Woman."
East Lyme High School history teacher James Littlefield holds a copy of his book, "The Slave Catcher's Woman." peter m. weber

East Lyme - As high school teacher James Littlefield launched his recent historical novel, he had the East Lyme community behind him.

Not only did friends, faculty and former students fill the high school's library for an event last month for his book, "The Slave Catcher's Woman," but they also supported the book's process.

East Lyme High School student Erin Doherty illustrated the book's cover, technology education teacher Ray Campbell developed the graphics and former student Richard LaPorta was his publisher.

LaPorta, who helped bring Littlefield's 288-page historical-fiction book out of his desk drawer and into the public realm, met his one-time teacher again by chance.

Both Littlefield and LaPorta happened to attend the same Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association meeting in Groton, where LaPorta, recognized his former teacher. LaPorta, the publisher of Husky Trail Press, a publishing company in East Lyme, then read Littlefield's manuscript and was impressed by how educational the book was.

"He put me back in that time," he said.

Indeed, Littlefield has been educating students about social studies for decades as a teacher at East Lyme High School, where he retired from full-time teaching in 2003. He currently teaches anthropology, a social studies elective, at the school and leads students on archeological digs of the area. His contributions to history include his involvement with the Smith Harris House and civil war reenactment.

This history knowledge - coupled with inspiration from his and his wife's bloodhound dog, Molly - built the foundation for his book. In researching, he learned that slave catchers used bloodhound dogs during slavery, but that there was relatively little written about slave catchers.

Littlefield said the book, which chronicles the tales of slave catcher, Coswell Tims, interwoven with a love story, offers readers an educational perspective on slavery.

"It really gives a look of slavery from within," he said about the book.

In writing the book, Littlefield did extensive research on slavery and the time period, compiling a list of things he didn't know. He read all the books he could find on the topic in places from the Book Barn to the public library, ending up with "a huge amount of material," he said.

Though the process of writing the book required much work, it was enjoyable for him.

"I'm a big reader," he said. "I'm a big history fan."

As Littlefield moved forward in deciding how to illustrate the story, he noticed the work of Doherty in the student newspaper, the Viking Saga. Doherty ended up illustrating the book, including the cover image of hands folded in chains which she modeled after her mother's hands, and Campbell developed the sketches into graphics.

The book experience was an opportunity for Doherty to express her talents and future goals.

"I'm really interested in combining art and anatomy," said the student about her future pursuits.

At the March 6 book event, a former student, who now teaches French at the high school, recalled Littlefield's special teaching style that incorporated story-telling.

"He told stories," said Becky Miller. "You learned by these fantastic stories. Everybody was just on the edge of their seats."

For LaPorta, "The Slave Catcher's Woman" was a compelling read that transports the reader into history.

"The key is: do you want to turn the page and do you feel like you are part of the scene?" he said. "I think this book does both."

Littlefield will have book events this spring, including a reading and book-signing at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 20 at the Monte Cristo Bookshop on 13 Washington St. in New London.


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