Tag Archives: Underground Railroad;

Perfect Pairing of African-American Heroes

Regular readers may notice a theme these past few weeks – I’ve been reading, and featuring, many picture book biographies. Not only do I enjoy learning about the past through these informative picture books, but I’m reading to learn more about the genre as I research and write picture book biographies, too. And as you read this, I’m attending a Highlights Foundation non-fiction master class with, among others, the author of these two fascinating biographies.

Before She Was Harriet

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: Holiday House Publishing, Inc./2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, African-American history, women’s history, slavery, underground railroad

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist.
We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2012

Ages: 5-8

Themes: biography, African-American history, slavery, literacy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The inspirational, true story of how Frederick Douglass found his way to freedom one word at a time.
This picture book biography chronicles the youth of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African American figures in American history. Douglass spent his life advocating for the equality of all, and it was through reading that he was able to stand up for himself and others. Award-winning husband-wife team Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome present a moving and captivating look at the young life of the inspirational man who said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they are biographies of two famous 19th century African-Americans who escaped slavery and worked to abolish it. Although written by the same author, their stories are shared in very different ways. In Before She Was Harriet, Cline-Ransome relates the life of Harriet Tubman in verse, in reverse chronological order, beginning, and ending, at old age. Cline-Ransome utilizes names, titles and roles to describe Harriet during the distinct phases of her life in this life-spanning biography. In Words Set Me Free, Cline-Ransome uses first-person point-of-view to recount a short period in the life of Frederick Douglass, when he learned to read and shared that skill with fellow slaves. Despite the different approaches, both picture books reveal pivotal moments in the lives of these iconic figures.

 

Perfect Pairing of Objects on Journeys

When I saw the haunting cover of Almost to Freedom in my local library, I had to read it. It immediately brought to mind another picture about another child at another time in another part of the world.

 

Almost to Freedom 

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Publisher/Date: Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing Group)/2003

Ages: 6-10

Themes: slavery; Underground Railroad; doll; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 

The Dress and the Girl

Author: Camille Andros

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: immigration; memory; journey

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A little girl and her favorite dress dream of an extraordinary life. They enjoy simple pleasures together on a beautiful Greek island. They watch the sunset, do chores, and pick wildflowers on the way home. One day, the dress and the girl must leave the island and immigrate to the United States. Upon arrival, the girl is separated from the trunk carrying her favorite dress, and she fears her dress is lost forever. Many years later, the girl—now all grown up—spots the dress in a thrift store window. As the two are finally reunited, the memories of their times together come flooding back. While the girl can no longer wear the dress, it’s now perfect for her own daughter—and the new journey of a girl and her dress begins. Featuring lush illustrations, The Dress and the Girl is a stunning picture book about memory and the power of the items we hold most dear.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both recount journeys of important inanimate objects that accompany their special persons through difficult life changes. The main character and narrator in Almost to Freedom is Sally, a rag doll who is “best friends” with Lindy, an enslaved girl, who is by Lindy’s side as Lindy is whipped, and who accompanies Lindy and her family as they flee slavery utilizing the Underground Railroad. In The Dress and the Girl, the unnamed pair do everything together, until they are separated accidentally following a journey to America. In both of these books, I think the presence of these beloved objects brings comfort to the children. I think telling these stories by focusing on the objects rather than on the children enables readers to witness the events but be somewhat removed as well, something that I found particularly helpful when reading about Lindy being whipped.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ella & Monkey at Sea, about a young girl and her stuffed monkey who move to America.