A beautiful portrayal of a historic and arduous family journey northward

OVERGROUND RAILROAD

One family’s experience of the Great Migration.

Cline-Ransome and Ransome, a husband-and-wife author-and-illustrator team, have again collaborated on an important story from African American history. Narrator Ruth Ellen, Mama, and Daddy awaken early to travel to New York without the permission or knowledge of the landowner on whose land they sharecrop. (The author’s note mentions that landowners often used threats and violence to keep sharecroppers on the land and perpetually in debt.) The family boards the train with luggage, tickets, and food in a shoebox—since black folks cannot eat in the dining car and must sit in the colored section of the train. The conductor calls out the cities as they progress North. When the conductor removes the “whites only” sign near Baltimore, African Americans can sit wherever they want—though it takes some time before Ruth Ellen and her family find white riders who smile a welcome. Ruth Ellen reads Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass aloud to Mama on the train ride, a gift from her teacher that parallels her own family’s journey. Ransome’s watercolor-and-collage illustrations effectively capture both the historical setting and the trepidation of a family who though not enslaved, nevertheless must escape as if they were. Cotton bolls throughout the images accentuate cotton’s economic dominance in the sharecropping system.

A beautiful portrayal of a historic and arduous family journey northward . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3873-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance.

MUMBET'S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

With the words of Massachusetts colonial rebels ringing in her ears, a slave determines to win her freedom.

In 1780, Mumbet heard the words of the new Massachusetts constitution, including its declaration of freedom and equality. With the help of a young lawyer, she went to court and the following year, won her freedom, becoming Elizabeth Freeman. Slavery was declared illegal and subsequently outlawed in the state. Woelfle writes with fervor as she describes Mumbet’s life in the household of John Ashley, a rich landowner and businessman who hosted protest meetings against British taxation. His wife was abrasive and abusive, striking out with a coal shovel at a young girl, possibly Mumbet’s daughter. Mumbet deflected the blow and regarded the wound as “her badge of bravery.” Ironically, the lawyer who took her case, Theodore Sedgwick, had attended John Ashley’s meetings. Delinois’ full-bleed paintings are heroic in scale, richly textured and vibrant. Typography becomes part of the page design as the font increases when the text mentions freedom. Another slave in the Ashley household was named in the court case, but Woelfle, keeping her young audience in mind, keeps it simple, wisely focusing on Mumbet.

A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance. (author’s note, selected bibliography, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-6589-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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A stunning, honest, yet age-appropriate depiction of historical injustice.

BUILD A HOUSE

Giddens’ song commemorating the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth is adapted into a picture book centering history and resilience.

Written in second person, the story begins “You brought me here / to build your house” and depicts a Black family joining enslaved Black laborers in a field, transported and supervised by a White person. The family helps the others lay bricks and pick cotton until they are sent away, with the White person gesturing for them to leave (“you told me… // GO”). Against a backdrop of green fields and blue mountains, the family finds “a place / To build my house,” enjoying freedom, until “you said I couldn’t / Build a house / And so you burnt it…// DOWN.” Beside the ashes, the family writes a song; images depict instruments and musical notes being pulled from the family; and another illustration shows White people dancing and playing. The family travels “far and wide” and finds a new place where they can write a song and “put my story down.” Instruments in hand, the family establishes itself once again in the land. This deeply moving portrait of the push and pull of history is made concrete through Mikai’s art, which features bright green landscapes, expressive faces, and ultimately hopeful compositions. Giddens’ powerful, spare poetry, spanning centuries of American history, is breathtaking. Readers who discover her music through this book and the online recording (included as a QR code) will be forever glad they picked up this book. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A stunning, honest, yet age-appropriate depiction of historical injustice. (afterword) (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2252-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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