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by Susan VanHecke ; illustrated by London Ladd

Age Range: 6 - 10

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-58089-550-7
Publisher: Charlesbridge

In 1861, three slaves escape from Confederate Virginia and find freedom.

When their owner demands their return under the Fugitive Slave Act, Union Gen. Frank Butler declares that since Virginia has just seceded, the men are “contraband of war.” Many other escaped slaves join them and build a community called Slabtown. A year into the war, another town called Grand Contraband Camp arises from the ruins of Hampton, Va. While former “chattel” spend their days working for the Union Army, their evenings are devoted to learning letters and numbers from missionary teachers standing under a live oak. The year 1863 brings the Emancipation Proclamation, read aloud under what the community calls the Freedom Tree. A precedent was set as, according to the author’s note, the land grew into Hampton University. The Emancipation Oak, that Freedom Tree, is now part of a National Historic Landmark District. VanHecke’s free-verse narrative is compelling, informative and emotive, telling the story by year from 1861 to 1863. Ladd uses acrylic and pastel paints with colored pencils to present a realistic depiction of events, the danger that the men faced while escaping and the jubilation felt as they listened to the words that freed them.

A valuable addition to the expanding canon of books on slaves escaping to freedom. (bibliography) (Informational picture book. 6-10)