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I WANT TO BE FREE by Joseph Slate


by Joseph Slate and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Age Range: 6 - 8

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-399-24342-4
Publisher: Putnam

Before I die, I want to be free. / But the Big Man says, ‘You belong to me.’ ” A young slave in the South escapes only to be tracked down and shackled, but he manages to break free again. The ring of the shackles remains on his ankle as he heads north, picking up along the way a helpless black child, whom he cares for. Once in the “land of the free,” the boy touches the ring, which falls away: “ ‘How, dear child, did you set me free?’ / 'I'm from the Lord. You cared for me.’ ” Slate’s story, told in terse, rhyming couplets, takes a Buddhist Jataka tale, moves it to America and invests it with Christian overtones—a dubious cultural appropriation. Award-winning artist Lewis’s watercolors are characteristically beautiful in composition, but the colors sometimes reproduce murkily; it’s difficult to discern the race of the ominous image of the Big Man on the cover. Not up to either contributor’s standards, but a passable selection where slave tales or Christian inspirational tales are needed. (Picture book. 6-8)