Two enslaved children become a legend when they escape the inhumane plantation system.
Siblings John and Millicent (whom some will remember as the mother of Thunder Rose, from the 2003 picture book of the same name, illustrated by Kadir Nelson) toil on Simon Plenty’s plantation as slaves. Their parents were sold away—“I don’t have to tell you the pain this could put on anyone, let alone a child”—but not before they “had sown the seeds of freedom in their children’s minds and hearts.” Samuel and Maggie had told their children that their people could fly and that such a time might come for them. One day, the overseer strikes an unusual, large bird out of the sky. John and Millicent rescue it under cover of night and nurse the creature back to health. Things get more difficult for John and Millicent, as first John is hired out for months at a time, and then it is rumored that he will be sold away. One night, when they are trying to free the bird, the overseer discovers them, and the two children run off, heading west after the bird. Nolen luxuriates in poetic and symbolic language in this satisfying story. The lengthy text, addressed directly to child listeners, frames the tale with historical, cultural, and mythical context that will leave some younger children wondering but nevertheless will hold them spellbound. Ransome’s paintings create memorable scenes that evoke the indomitable human spirit to which the book is a tribute.
Powerful storytelling and immersive art. (author’s note, further reading) (Picture book. 6-10)