Tag Archives: abolition

The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery

Written by: Jehan Jones-Radgowski

Illustrated by: Poppy Kang

For ages: 9-13 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Enslavement, Historical Figure, Historical Events, Abolition, POC-Centric Narratives, Resilience, Strength, Own Voices.

Summary: This book is phenomenal.  Robert Smalls was an enslaved man that was able to hold a job away from the person that enslaved him.  Because of this, he worked on a ship called The Planter during the Civil War and hatched a plan to save himself and many others.  Because Smalls was brave, intelligent, and cunning, he planned to impersonate the captain of The Planter and sail himself, his family, and around two dozen other enslaved people to the North where they would be free.  Robert set out and was able to sneak the large ship past several Confederate forts by carefully studying the actual ship captain’s movements, not raising suspicions of the soldiers stationed.

This book tells about the entire journey Robert Smalls underwent, and how his bravery also brought weapons to the Union army when the ship arrived.  After the story is an Afterword which talks more about enslavement and the Civil War.  I love the language that is used in the book, it is person-first and comprehensive without sounding like a lecture.  It puts forward Robert’s intelligence in carrying out his plan to help himself and others, rather than telling the story from a savior of abolitionist perspective, Robert is in charge of his own story.  There is also a glossary and a list of books that the reader can seek out to learn more, as well as a bibliography and a real photo of Robert!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

0*sEWcmQeqnzW8U7AWJehan Jones-Radgowski is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She has lived all over the world, including South Africa, Spain, Venezuela, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Jehan currently lives in Germany with her family.

 

 

 

CTNPT_1258Poppy Kang is a freelance Illustrator and Visual Development Artist based in Los Angeles, California.

Henry’s Freedom Box, A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Written by: Ellen Levine

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson

For ages: 7 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Enslavement, Underground Railroad, Historical  Figures, Historical Fiction, Family, Friendship, Abolition. 

Summary: This book is heart wrenching.  Very little happens in this story that is positive besides gaining freedom, and it gives a very real look at Henry’s life while being enslaved.  There are very mature themes throughout this book, and it should be used in conjunction with classroom talks and discussions about enslavement, freedom, and racism.

Henry is a young enslaved boy when his enslaver falls very ill.  Henry is called to his enslaver’s bedroom and has the tiniest spark of hope that he will be given freedom.  Instead, he is given to his enslaver’s son.  Henry says goodbye to his family, and is sent to work in his new enslaver’s factory.  Henry was good at his job, but the factory owner was very cruel and would poke his enslaved people with a sharp stick or beat them for making mistakes.

Henry is now older than a boy, still working in the factory.  He meets Nancy, who is also enslaved, and they fall in love.  Given permission to marry, they do so and had three children.  Henry and Nancy were lucky in that despite being enslaved by two different people, they were permitted to live together as a family.  One night, Nancy confides to Henry that her enslaver just lost a lot of money and is worried that he will sell their children.  The next day, Henry tries not to be worried about what Nancy had said but cannot shake the feeling.  Henry’s friend James comes into the factory and whispers to Henry that his wife and children have just been sold to another enslaver.  At lunch, he runs downtown just in time to see his wife and children disappearing down the road.  Devastated, he can’t think of anything except how to escape enslavement.  Weeks pass, and Henry comes up with a plan with the help of his friend James and a white abolitionist named Dr. Smith.  Henry will mail himself to freedom in a shipping crate.  Dr. Smith addressed the crate to his friend in Philadelphia, and then Henry burned his hand down to the bone with oil of vitriol as an excuse to stay home from the tobacco factory.  Despite Dr. Smith begging the shipping crew to be careful with the box, it is thrown onto a steamboat and Henry must ride upside down until he is moved again.  He falls asleep and is awoken to loud knocking on the box.  He made it to Philadelphia!

Henry’s 350 mile journey took him around 27 hours, and is one of the most well-known individuals that freed themselves from enslavement using the help of the Underground Railroad.  He never found Nancy and his children, and moved to England in 1850.  Henry was a very intelligent man.  This book was published in 2007 and is a Caldecott Honor Book.  Some of the language could be updated to reflect the switch to ‘enslavement’ rather than ‘slavery’ when describing the period of enslavement.  Levine is a talented author with an interest in social justice, and this is an important story for children to know about when learning about history.  We must acknowledge that she is non-Black and writing about a BIPOC historical figure, but she writes in a way that gives Henry ownership over his own destiny and is an active-doer.  Henry is the one that gets himself to freedom, enlisting the help of an abolitionist rather than waiting for someone to save him.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you think about Henry?
  • How do you think families felt when they were broken up, like Nancy and Henry were?
  • Why do you think people enslaved others?
  • Abolitionists were crucial in fighting against the white supremacy and enslavement during Henry’s life.  Why do you think these people decided to fight against the system?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Ellen_levine-210Ellen Levine, whose books for young people were born of a love for teaching and her active espousal of social justice, died on May 26, 2012 of lung cancer. She was 73.

Her 2007 picture book Henry’s Freedom Box (Scholastic), illustrated by Kadir Nelson, was the true story of a slave named Henry “Box” Brown who mailed himself north to freedom in a wooden packing crate. The title received warm critical praise and was named a Caldecott Honor Book. Some of her other well-known publications include I Hate English! (Scholastic), Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Stories (Putnam), and Rachel Carson: A Twentieth-Century Life (Viking). Levine published several nonfiction works for adults as well.

A woman of wide-ranging interests and talents, Levine earned degrees in politics and political science, was an attorney for a public-interest law group after receiving her law degree from New York University in 1979, and was a respected documentary filmmaker, woodcarver and freelance photographer. She also was an adult literacy and ESL tutor and taught courses in writing for children and young adults in Vermont College’s MFA program.

She is survived by her spouse and partner Anne Koedt, also an author and illustrator of children’s books, her sister and brother-in-law Mada Leibman and Burt Liebman, and nieces and nephews.

SITE BIO PHOTO2Kadir Nelson (b. 1974) is an American artist who currently exhibits his artwork in galleries and museums nationwide and abroad. His paintings are in the private and public permanent collections of several notable institutions including the Muskegon Museum of Art, The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the International Olympic Committee, and the US House of Representatives. Nelson has also authored and illustrated several award-winning NYT Best-Selling picture books including, “WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball” and “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.” Nelson states, “I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror, reflecting the innermost beauty and divinity of the human spirit; and is most effective when it calls the viewer to remember one’s highest self. I choose subject matter that has emotional and spiritual resonance and focuses on the journey of the hero as it relates to the personal and collective stories of people.“

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Written by: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated by: James E. Ransome

For ages: 5-9 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Enslavement, Music, POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Figure, Historic Events, Musician, Activism, Abolition, Racism, Trailblazer.  

Summary: This is an interesting and historic tale of a gifted musician, which begins on a West Indies sugar plantation in 1739.  The plantation owner Guillame-Pierre is awaiting the birth of his first child, an interracial boy birthed by Nanon, one of the Guillame-Pierre’s enslaved women.  There is an underlying message that the plantation owner and Nanon were in love but unable to be together in a traditional capacity throughout the book, which will be discussed later on.  The baby is named Joseph, and contrary to a lot of historic narratives from this time he enjoys a life with a very involved father and no labor.  Joseph is free to play and spend time with his father, as well as a private tutor and music lessons.  Nanon and Joseph lived in the main house with his father, but loved to listen to the music played by the enslaved people who lived in their own quarters.  When Joseph was 9, his father moved himself, Nanon, and Joseph back to France.  Nanon was now a free woman, and had her own apartment in a village outside of Paris while Joseph and his father lived in the city.  This is another clue that Nanon and Joseph’s father were in love, as he financed her move and her life as a free woman in France.  Although Joseph was of noble birth, because he was interracial he was unable to fully assume the title he was born into and instead held Chevalier, which was a noble title but the lowest ranking one available.  He continued to receive high class academic education as well as excelled in many sports, which delighted Guillame-Pierre.  Joseph would visit his mother at her apartment every night and tell her about the things he did, knowing she would be unable to experience them due to the color of her skin.

When Joseph was 21, he decided to fully devote himself to music.  In 1769 he was offered first violin and timekeeper for the les Amateurs orchestra, an extremely high honor.  He created new techniques and elevated the orchestra to new heights, playing for the elite night after night.  He composed 6 operas, and a myriad of other musical pieces.  True to the title of his book, he inspired Mozart to continue with his musical undertakings and the two began to play alternating nights at the concert house.  Joseph eventually met and played for French royalty, and was appointed the Queen’s personal music instructor.  In an Author’s Note in the back, we learn during the French revolution he was falsely accused to misusing public funds and imprisoned, but was released and became an abolition activist.

This book is hefty, with a lot of information on each page.  While the age says suited for 5 years and up, most young readers will need assistance in the form of our good old Zone of Proximal Development.  The reader gets a sense of the privilege Joseph was born into, and how it enabled him to become known worldwide for his enthralling musical abilities.  Joseph was the product of two people in love, unable to be together because of both social stigma and legislation.  This is a fascinating story of a little known historical figure and trailblazer, being the first person of color to perform for royalty in the French palace.  The complexities of Joseph’s social situation can be more easily understood by older readers, but the main points of the story can be understood and enjoyed by readers much younger.  The illustrations by Ransome are in typical fashion, beautiful and evocative.  Highly recommend this book, but definitely needs a read through by the educator beforehand!

 Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever moved to a new place?
  • What do you think was going through Joseph’s mind when he was on the ship back to France?
  • Why do you think some people are upset by different skin tones?
  • Do you think Joseph wanted his parents to be able to live together?
  • How proud do you think Joseph was when he worked very hard and was given the first violin position because of that hard work?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Why was the West Indies a popular spot for sugar plantations?  Learn about the history, and why Guillame-Pierre would have moved there temporarily to make money before moving back to France.
  • Joseph was a prolific composer.  Listen to some of his music.  What does it make you feel?  Does it sound different than the music you listen to?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

lesa_nola-2Lesa Cline-Ransome grew up in Malden, MA, a suburb just outside of Boston, the daughter of two nurses and the youngest of three. She considers consider herself very lucky to have grown up with a mother who loved to read. Each week Lesa’s Mom would take Lesa with her to the local library so that she could stock up on books. As Lesa grew older she would venture off into the children’s section and gather up her own collection to check out. Through her mother Lesa realized that reading could become a wonderful escape and writing even more so. When her mother gave Lesa a diary as a gift, she first filled the pages with the “very important” details of her life—adventures with her friends, secret crushes and the many ways in which her family drove her crazy. Then Lesa began creating my own stories! Lesa became interested in children’s books the year she married. Her husband, James was working on illustrating his first book which allowed both of them to look at picture books in a new way. When they’d browse books in bookstores, he studied the illustrations, she read the stories. Lesa eventually completed a graduate degree in elementary education and through coursework became truly immersed in children’s literature.

james-e-ransome-1261135The Children’s Book Council named James E. Ransome as one of seventy-five authors and illustrators everyone should know. Currently a member of the Society of Illustrators, Ransome has received both the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Honor Award for his book, The Creation. He has also received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration for Uncle Jed’s Barbershop which was selected as an ALA Notable Book and is currently being shown as a feature on Reading Rainbow. How Many Stars in the Sky?and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt were also Reading Rainbow selections. PBS’s Storytime featured his book, The Old Dog. Ransome has exhibited works in group and solo shows throughout the country and received The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance award for his book, The Wagon. In 1999 Let My People Go received the NAACP Image Award for Illustration and Satchel Paige was reviewed in Bank Street College of Education’s “The Best Children’s Books of the Year.” In 2001, James received the Rip Van Winkle Award from the School Library Media Specialists of Southeast New York for the body of his work.  How Animals Saved the People received the SEBA (Southeastern Book Association) Best Book of the Year Award in 2002 and the Vermont Center for the Book chose Visiting Day as one of the top ten diversity books of 2002.  In 2004 James was recognized by the local art association when he received the Dutchess County Executive Arts Award for an Individual Artist.  He has completed several commissioned murals for the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Hemphill Branch Library in Greensboro, NC. He created a historical painting commissioned by a jury for the Paterson, NJ Library and a poster for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Brown vs the Board of Education.  His traveling Exhibit, Visual Stories has been touring the United States since 2003.  His work is part of both private and public children’s book art collections.