Note: This is my third in a series of posts about time travel books featuring the Underground Railroad.
Flight to Freedom!: Nickolas Flux and the Underground Railroad (Nickolas Flux History Chronicles) by Mari Bolte, illustrated by Mark Simmons, 2014, 40 pages.
Summary from Amazon:
When a spontaneous time leap sends Nickolas Flux back to the height of the Underground Railroad, what’s a teenage history buff to do? Try to help a runaway slave escape, of course! From slave catchers to safe houses, Nick must survive a journey on the secret network that helped runaway slaves gain their freedom.
At forty pages, this book was almost a booklet. Actually, it is a slim graphic novel and because I don’t know much about graphic novels, I’m not in the best position to evaluate one. Visually, I can say I found the pictures a bit muddy/dark for my taste. This may be because the illustrator was depicting action that took place at night. Also, the tall, skinny, font greatly strained my almost-fifty-year-old eyes.
Nine of the pages have “Flux Facts” at the bottom of them that provide additional information about the Underground Railroad. This Flux Fact gave me pause:
The Underground Railroad ran both ways. Bounty hunters and kidnappers captured free blacks and runaway slaves in the North. They took them to the South and sold them back into slavery.
It is true bounty hunters captured free blacks and runaway slaves and brought them South, however is this really part of the Underground Railroad as it is usually defined? Wikipedia only refers to the northern movement of enslaved people.
In this story, Nickolas Flux and his friend Nadia are visiting the Sparta Hills Museum of History with their class. Nadia reads aloud from the plaque beside a quilt displayed on the wall
… people believe certain quilt patterns aided runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. For example, the wagon wheel pattern was said to signal the start of a slave’s journey.
Nicholas touches the quilt and is whisked back in time. I would love to believe that patterns in quilts gave information to enslaved people who were using the Underground Railroad. However, I’m afraid the evidence is not there. From Scholastic:
Slaves made quilts that had specific symbols – or codes – that helped slaves escape. Slaves used the quilts since many of them were illiterate.
People in the 1800s, including slaves, made quilts. Sometimes these quilts had symbols in them, but they were not secret codes that helped runaway slaves. The story of the Secret Quilt Code began with a book called Hidden in Plain View published in 1999. Before then, there was no talk about a Secret Quilt Code. In all the interviews with freed slaves done in the 1930s, no one mentioned the Code, and since 1999, many historians have disputed the truth to the story. It is also unrealistic to expect that slaves could gather the material and make a quilt fast enough to help escaping slaves. Escaping slaves certainly did not carry quilts with them in their escape to freedom – they were just too heavy.
However, since this is a work of fiction, I guess the quilt makes an acceptable time travel “portal”. Despite my belief that parts of this book might be factually incorrect or at least misleading, and despite the fact that this was the least engaging time travel story about the Underground Railroad of the four I have read recently, I still think it could serve as a useful introduction to the subject of the Underground Railroad, especially for reluctant readers who only want to read graphic novels. My nine-year-old son saw it on the dining room table and immediately wanted to borrow it which means something, and may mean a lot!
- Scholastic Myths of the Underground Railroad
- National Geographic Did Quilts Hold Codes to the Underground Railroad?
- Hoaxes.org The Underground Railroad Quilt Code
For more reviews of middle grade books, check out the MMGM links on Shannon Messenger’s blog.
Next week: Infinity Ring Book Three: The Trap Door.