This is the second in a short series of posts about the Underground Railroad.
Frieda Wishinsky’s Hurry, Freedom (Canadian Flyer Adventures, No. 7) (that’s Hurry comma Freedom, not to be confused with Hurry Freedom, 2008, 78 pages), is a simple story about the Underground Railroad for young chapter book readers, about at the difficulty level of the Magic Treehouse book. I didn’t like it nearly as much as Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time, No. 3) that I reviewed last week, as I felt this story is a little skimpy. But for those looking for a very short book about the Underground Railroad it might fit the bill.
Summary from Goodreads
An antique sled with amazing powers has taken Emily and Matt across the continent and all through time. They’ve come face to face with pirates, prospectors, the Vikings, and even dinosaurs. Now, in the seventh title in the “Canadian Flyer Adventures” series, they’re off on their most important journey yet — helping along the Underground Railroad, where they meet Harriet Tubman and Dr. Alexander Ross. A special section at the back of the book gives readers additional facts about the abolition movement.
I like the concept of the sled as a time travel vehicle that is used in this series because it is very concrete for young readers. However, it’s a little hard to believe the kids have to haul around a sled whenever they time travel. But hey, I guess kids gotta do what kids gotta do. The book starts with Emily and Matt thinking they are embarking on a trip that involves an actual railroad, which then leads to an explanation of the term “Underground Railroad”. Emily and Matt meet some enslaved people who are traveling to Canada and help them as best they can. The story features a cameo by Harriet Tubman, herself. I counted twelve half-page, full-page or two-page illustrations in Hello, Freedom. There are eight easy-to-read pages of factual information about the Underground Railroad in the back of the book– a nice bonus.
Although it is not a time travel book, I have to mention another fantastic book about slavery I read recently, Christmas in the Big House: Christmas in the Quarters, written by Pat and Fred McKissack. This 11.3 by 8.9 inch book has many full-page, full-color illustrations by John Thompson. Description from open library: Describes the customs, recipes, poems, and songs used to celebrate Christmas in the big plantation houses and in the slave quarters just before the Civil War.
I was worried the book would somehow make it seem like slavery was okay during Christmas time, and although it does have several light moments, this book does not gloss over the horrors of slavery. This poem from the book captures the flavor:
Because my mouth is wide with laughter, you do not hear my inner cry. Because my feet are gay with dancing you do not know I die.
There is a hopeful note throughout the book that slavery will not last forever, but these slaves are not counting on white people to change things. Mention is made of the Underground Railroad, and John Brown’s uprising. It would seem a difficult task to describe the joys of Christmas along with the horrors of slavery in a short children’s book, and I feel like these authors have done it perfectly. By the end the book it is January first which is also separation day, the day when some slaves are sold or hired out. Despite the intensity of the story, I would feel comfortable sharing it with my fourth grader.
Nobody’s really surprised when Massa and Missus and the children visit the Quarters. Everyone knows Massa has come for more than just a social call. Still the family is made to feel welcome and served whatever is to their liking. Massa loves pickled pig feet, and Missus enjoys ashcake with molasses. The children ask for slices of buttermilk or sweet potato pie. The dancing and singing continue, but toned down a bit. Whan Massa is convinced that the slaves are “happy” and their minds are on food and drink and having a good time, then he and his family leave. It is the sullen slave who bears watching, he reminds the overseer.
Buy this book! It’s a story that needs to be shared more widely.
If you are looking for more middle grade book reviews, look no further than the MMGM links on Shannon Messenger’s blog.