Thursday, June 21, 2018

Freedom Over Me (Ashley Bryan)

Author:  Ashley Bryan

Illustrator:  Ashley Bryan

Target Ages:  8 and up

Genre:  Poetry Historical Fiction

Awards: Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Newbery Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award

Publisher Summary: 
Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as…a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold—dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers,” Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. 

Sample Lines:
from “Peggy Dreams”
My knowledge makes me
hunger for more. 
Relieving the aches,
the pains,
the suffering
of the slaves
is my chief joy.

from “Athelia”
As slaves,
we do what our owners
expect and demand of us. 
As human beings,
our real lives are
our precious secret.

from “Mulvina Dreams”
Years of driven labor
have not driven
the ancestral thoughts
out of me. 
My memories of teaching—
surrounded by children,
singing songs of our history—
lives always with me.

I began by listening to the audio book (which I recommend). I was immediately mesmerized by this narrative. The different voices bring the characters to life. Then, I read the book again and again. It is really hard to know where to begin discussing this powerful collection of poems.

Author Ashley Bryan sketched out multidimensional characters based on a historical document he came across listing the financial assets of an antebellum south plantation which included several enslaved people. In this historical fiction work, the enslaved characters each have two poems. One describes their role and life on the plantation.  The other is a stream of conscious “dream” revealing their inner desires and our common humanity. 

The central theme woven throughout is a deep longing for freedom and autonomy.  A couple powerful lines epitomize this universal desire: “Owners of the slaves think reading would give us ideas of freedom.  We know that whether we can read or not, we all want to be free.”

In addition, the characters’ unique skills and talents as well as their love for others resonate beyond race, culture, and class. Their feelings of pride for who they are and what they add to the world round out their character profiles.  

In addition, the poems illustrate the importance of their African heritage.  Some of them were born in Africa, so they still have the memories.  Those who are American born are inspired by the stories of their ancestral home.

The stunning watercolor paintings capture the characters' resilience and beauty. Hope, love, and creativity shine through despite living in the worse possible circumstances. Readers or all ages must experience Freedom Over Me.

Historical Connections:
African Kidnapping
Traveling the Middle Passage
Slavery and the American South
Slave Resistance and Runaways
Antebellum Southern Plantations

It is Poetry Friday!  Visit Michelle Kogan's Blog for more great poems.


  1. I have this and it is powerful, poems and illustrations, too. The different points of view help with the different approaches/feelings. Every classroom needs to have it. Thanks!

  2. Appreciations for sharing Ashley Bryan. Several of his books are among those I've shared with the first-graders I volunteer with. They love looking his his vibrant colors. When I show them his photograph their eyes light, because they share the same skin color. His large, unusual puppets, his studio open houses in Maine are all something that makes me see so much possibility for them.

  3. Thank you for sharing! This book is new to me, but it looks powerful. The lines you share are beautiful, as are the illustrations.

  4. Thank you for recommending the audiobook. It sounds very powerful.

  5. I do love this book so much. I got it for my library...the work of love that went into it's creation is as beautiful as the story. And, the illustrations are amazing. Thank you for highlighting this beauty.

  6. I love the art and poetry in this book. Can't wait to use it with sixth graders this year!

  7. Thanks for sharing this powerful and timely book with us. I'm familiar with Ashley Bryan's art-the art here is rich, and look forward to reading "Freedom Over Me"


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