Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tubman and Truth: American Heroes

Faith Ringgold, author and illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Flying way up, so far up that the mountains look like rock candy and the oceans like tiny cups of tea, Cassie and her brother, Be Be, encounter a fantastic train—the Underground Railroad train—and a tiny woman in a conductor’s uniform.  The woman is Harriet Tubman, who transports Cassie and Be Be back to the terrifying world of the slave plantation and on a desperate—but ultimately triumphant—journey of escape.  Drawing on historical accounts…and her own imagination, Faith Ringgold has created a book that both recounts the realities of slavery and joyfully celebrates freedom. 

What’s to Love:
This imaginative encounter puts modern day children in the role of escaped slaves—hiding is often frightening places like cobwebbed attics and even a confining coffin.  The constant threat of being caught and punished echoes in the story elements as well as the nefarious faces lurking in the shadows of the illustrations. The flying metaphor for modern day African Americans is used to illustrate how far they have come in their fight for freedom.  Unlike their ancestors who were in shackles, they can go anywhere and be anything.  The story ends with Cassie and Be Be reunited as people past and present remember the bravery and sacrifice of Harriet Tubman.

Lesa Cline-Ransome, author
James E. Ransome, illustrator

Publisher Summary:  
Moses. General Tubman, Minty, Araminta—the woman we know today as Harriet Tubman went by many names.  Each represented one of her many roles as a spy, as a liberator, as a suffragist, and more.

What’s to Love:
Using gorgeous watercolor paintings and lyrical free verse, the story of Harriet Tubman is revealed as a non-linear retrospective.  Each two-page spread depicts one of her amazing accomplishments—starting  with her role as a suffragist fighting for women without a voice and looking all the way back to when she was a slave named Araminta who was taught by her father to read the woods and stars.  To conclude, the story shifts back to Tubman as an old woman, “tired and worn and wrinkled and free.”  For those who only know her by her more famous role, conductor of the Underground Railroad, this book paints a fuller view of the woman who fought so hard to create a more just and free world. 

Carole Boston Weatherford, author
Kadir Nelson, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
I set the north star in the heavens
And I mean for you to be free…

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman hears these words from God one summer night and decides to leave her husband and family behind and escape.  Taking with her only her faith, she must creep through woods with hounds at her feet, sleep for days in a potato hole, trust people who could have easily turned her in.

But she was never alone.

What’s to Love:
Readers walk along as Harriet experiences the peril and hardship of her escape. They learn about how her faith gives her strength through her doubts and fears.  Her faith, also, gives her courage to help others to freedom.  To be a beacon of hope.  To be the Moses of her people.  The incomparable Kadir Nelson illustrates another stunning picture book about courage, perseverance, and hope in a time of rampant injustice and inequality. 

Anne Rockwell, author
R. Gregory Christie, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Isabella was only nine when she was sold for the first time.  And at first no one wanted her.  The slave auctioneer had to throw in a flock of sheep before someone bid on the skinny young girl.

But this young girl would grow.  She would grow to become a brave, strong, towering women who would speak out against the evils of slavery.  She would transform herself into one of the most powerful voices in the abolitionist movement and would help to change the course of a nation. 

The slave girl Isabella would become the legendary Sojourner Truth. 

What’s to Love:
This fascinating picture book biography focuses primarily on Sojourner’s early personal life as a slave, mother, and freed woman.  Her bravery and boldness are highlighted, such as when she went before a White court and argued for her son’s freedom (and won).  Readers learn about her name, which she changed to represent her new life as well as her faith, her purpose, and her message.  The pivotal moment though is when she speaks before a large group of White people, and some men get rowdy.  Fearful, yet bold, Sojourner begins to sing, causing the crowd to calm.  She goes on to give her speech that night and for many nights afterward—throughout the land.  Her courage, boldness, and message are an inspiration. 

Ann Turner, author
James Ransome, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
God spoke in my heart a new name
which fits me like a new dress made
just for me…
I think with a name like
Sojourner Truth
a body has some respect at last. 

Here is the celebrated story of how former slave Isabella Baumfree transformed herself into the preacher and orator Sojourner Truth, one of the most inspiring and important figures of the abolitionist and women’s rights movement. 

What’s to Love:
Written as a first person narrative from Sojourner’s perspective, readers get snapshots of her life from birth to old age.  Concrete similes bring out her fierce faith and bold personality, such as “God spoke in my heart a new name that fits me like a new dress made just for me” and “at times my voice is like Gabriel’s trumpet.”  Though she constantly travels and tirelessly advocates for freedom and equality, she never forgets her family, who are like shining stars in the sky waiting for her arrive in heaven.  This poignant tribute is an ideal introduction to her legacy and message as a civil rights leader.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, author
Brian Pinkney, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
Sojourner Truth was as strong and tall as most men.  She was big, black, and so beautiful.  Born into slavery, Sojourner ran away as a young girl.  She cherished her freedom, and believed it should be granted to everyone.  But she didn’t fight for it with her mighty fists, and she didn’t stomp for it with her giant boots.  Sojourner spoke the truth, and struggled against injustice with her brave, beautiful voice.

What’s to Love:
This book covers much of the same material as the others.  There are a couple differences though.  This narrative emphasizes her big, strong, and beautiful appearance to focus more on her physical strength and presence which goes with the “step-stomp stride” of the title.  In the beginning she is a strong slave woman who can do any physical task a man can do.  This metaphor continues as she walks as a free woman and uses her strong feet and presence to take on jobs in the city.  Eventually, she stomps out ignorance and intolerance as a powerful speaker.  Another major difference in this story is the focus on her work for women’s rights.  This role is epitomized when she listens to a group of preachers declaring all the reasons women should remain in an inferior status.  In response, Sojourner walks up to the podium to refute each one of their arguments using truths from the Bible.  Sojourner is a model for the importance of using your words to fight injustice, no matter how much physical strength a person possesses. 

Catherine Clinton, author
Shane W. Evan, illustrator

Publisher Summary:
To women with similar backgrounds.
Both slaves; both fiercely independent.
Both great in different ways.

Harriet Tubman:  brave pioneer who led her fellow slaves to freedom, larger than life…yearning to be free.

Sojourner Truth:  strong woman who spoke up for African American rights, tall as a tree…yearning to be free.

One day in 1864, the lives of these two women came together. 

What’s to Love:
Unfolding in gripping parallel portraits, this beautiful tribute celebrates the common work and message of two heroes of the abolitionists’ movement.  Though they were born decades apart and in different parts of the country, their common faith and powerful message made them sisters in the fight against the evils of slavery.

For Older Children…

Rob Shone & Anita Ganeri, authors
Rob Shone, illustrator
The book begins and ends with a few pages of historical information.  The majority of it is written as a graphic novel beginning with Tubman’s childhood and ending with her death.  Not only are her activities with the Underground Railroad shown but also her work with the Union army and other efforts to help the needy.  In addition, Civil War moments are revealed—specifically ones noteworthy for African-Americans. 


  1. Two of my favorite women in black history. There are so many books about them, each emphasizing a different angle. Didn't realize Harriet had so many names. Love the "flying" metaphor in "Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky."

    1. They are fascinating and amazing women. I did not know much about them until I began reading about them lately.


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