As a child, I was fascinated by stories of the Underground Railroad. The courage, the ingenuity and the unwavering resolve of those who fought against slavery inspired me. One character in particular stood out in this network to freedom: Harriet Tubman.
Born a slave in Maryland around 1820, Tubman was destined to resist the life she was born into. Even as a young girl, she was stubborn, running away, refusing orders and eventually placing herself between her owner and an escaping slave. Tubman's parents, however, had instilled in her something stronger than any of the travails that life had dealt herófaith in God.
It is this faith that underpins Carole Boston Weatherford's depiction of Tubman in Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. In this fictionalized telling of Tubman's own escape from slavery as well as her subsequent rescue of other slaves, Weatherford creates a conversation between her character and the Lord. Harriet's questions to God, "How far Lord?" and "Have you deserted me?" show a woman who had very human doubts and fears. Much like the biblical Moses to whom she is compared, Tubman struggles with the task that she feels God has given her.
Kadir Nelson's richly colored illustrations add a magnificent sense of realism to this superbly told story. Many pages are darkly hued, offering a reminder of the inky nights that escaping slaves faced on their journey northward. Nelson also captures a myriad of emotions etched on Tubman's face.
Weatherford, known for her distinctive handling of history in A Negro League Scrapbook, has written a story that will both inform and inspire. Teachers and parents alike will appreciate the inclusion of both a foreword which describes the history of slavery in America and an author's note with background on Tubman's life. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Spring
Weatherford's poetic telling and Nelson's atmospheric paintings of Tubman's role in the Underground Railroad portray the spiritual life of the African American visionary. From her days as a slave to her life as a free person, three narrative voices (a third-person narrator, Harriet herself, and God's words to Harriet) make clear that it was Tubman's faith that sustained her on the freedom journeys. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #6
Weatherford's poetic telling of Harriet Tubman's role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad combines with Nelson's larger-than-life illustrations to portray the spiritual life of the African American visionary. The story takes readers from Tubman's early days as a slave, through her decision to escape, and into her life as a free person who detested the institution of slavery so vehemently that she returned to the South nineteen times to free some three hundred slaves, including her family members. Weatherford uses three different narrative voices to explore Tubman's relationship with God: a third-person narrator, telling of her life and trials; the voice of Harriet herself, who (in an italicized font) speaks her doubts and pleas directly to God; and God's words to Harriet-"HARRIET, I WILL MAKE A WAY FOR YOU"-set in large, translucent type. The interaction between these narrative voices makes clear that it was Tubman's strong faith that sustained her on the freedom journeys so dramatically evoked in Nelson's richly atmospheric nightscapes. Several key scenes bring Harriet in close visual proximity to the reader to emphasize both her emotional turmoil and her strength. Moses offers a visual and literary experience of Tubman's life on a par with Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney's Minty. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 September #1
In elegant free verse, Weatherford imagines Tubman's remarkable escape from slavery and her role in guiding hundreds to freedom. Diverse typography braids three distinct narrative strands. White or black type delivers the third-person immediacy of Harriet's journey: "At nightfall, Harriet climbs into a wagon, / and the farmer covers her with blankets. / As the wagon wobbles along, Harriet worries that it is heading to jail." Larger, italic type telegraphs the devout Harriet's prayerful dialogue with God: "Shall I leap, Lord?" God's responses to her beseeching questions garner capitalized letters in warm grays. Nelson's double-page, full-bleed paintings illuminate both the dire physical and transcendent spiritual journey. At night, the moon lights Harriet's care-wracked face below a deep teal, star-pricked sky. By day, she disappears: A distant safe farm appears under a wan blue sky; a wagon transporting the hidden Harriet silhouettes against a golden sunset. Unique perspective and cropping reveal Tubman's heroism. Reaching Philadelphia, she's haloed in sunlight. Embracing her role as conductor, Harriet's face, eyes on the journey ahead, fairly bursts the picture plane against a blazing blue sky. Transcendent. (foreword, author's note) (Picture book. 5-9) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - January 2007
The two-page bold color pictures are the first things to stand out as the reader opens this book. They almost tell the story by themselves. Most are dark and reflect the mood of Harriet Tubman's life, escape to freedom, and return trips to help other slaves escape to the northern United States and Canada. Each two-page spread explains what Tubman is thinking and feeling through her conversation with God. Her belief that God would lead her to freedom and return to the south to help others is the backbone of the book. The foreword provides an explanation of the practice of slavery in the United States. The last page of the book is an extensive author's note that adds relevant facts to the spiritual journey described in the book. This, along with the foreword, provides background for an adult reader who is reading to young children or for an older child who wants more information. This is a moving story of the beliefs that sustained Tubman as she worked to gain freedom for herself and others. Recommended. Janet Luch, Educational Reviewer, Adjunct Professor, SUNY New Paltz, New York and Touro College ¬© 2007 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 July #5
In this gorgeous, poetic picture book, Weatherford (The Sound that Jazz Makes ) depicts Harriet Tubman's initial escape from slavery and her mission to lead others to freedom as divinely inspired, and achieved by steadfast faith and prayer. The author frames the text as an ongoing dialogue between Tubman and God, inserting narration to move the action along. On the eve of her being sold and torn from her family, Tubman prays in her despair. In response, "God speaks in a whip-poor-will's song. 'I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free.' " The twinkling star encourages Tubman: "My mind is made up. Tomorrow, I flee." The book's elegant design clearly delineates these elements√Ę‚ā¨"Harriet's words in italic, God's calming words in all caps drifting across the pages, the narrator's words in roman typeface√Ę‚ā¨"and makes this read like a wholly engrossing dramatic play. Nelson's (He's Got the Whole Worldin His Hands ) finely rendered oil and watercolor paintings, many set in the rural inky darkness of night, give his protagonist a vibrant, larger-than-life presence, befitting a woman who became known as the Moses of her people. His rugged backdrops and intense portraits convey all the emotion of Tubman's monumental mission. A foreword introduces the concept of slavery for children and an author's note includes a brief biography of Tubman. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)[Page 78]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 2-5 Tubman's religious faith drives this handsome, poetic account of her escape to freedom and role in the Underground Railroad. The story begins with Tubman addressing God on a summer night as she is about to be sold south from the Maryland plantation where she and her husband live: I am Your child, Lord; yet Master owns me,/drives me like a mule. In resounding bold text, God tells her He means for her to be free. The story is sketched between passages of prayerful dialogue that keep Tubman from giving up and eventually call upon her to be the Moses of [her] people. Deep scenes of night fill many double pages as the dramatic paintings follow her tortuous journey, arrival in Philadelphia, and later trip to guide others. Shifting perspectives and subtle details, such as shadowy forest animals guarding her while she sleeps, underscore the narrative's spirituality. Whether filled with apprehension, determination, or serenity, Tubman's beautifully furrowed face is expressive and entrancing. A foreword briefly explains the practice of slavery and an appended note outlines Tubman's life. The words and pictures create a potent sense of the harsh life of slavery, the fearsome escape, and one woman's unwavering belief in God.Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston[Page 129]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.