Reviews for Words Set Me Free : The Story of Young Frederick Douglass


Booklist Reviews 2012 March #2
From birth and early separation from his mother to his first escape attempt at age 17, this picture-book adaptation of Frederick Douglass' autobiography depicts the emotional turmoil and dehumanization of slavery. As the title suggests, the focus is on the forbidden act of reading. Taught by a well-meaning "Missus," his lessons were suddenly halted with the warning, "If you teach him how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave." Teaching other slaves to read, Douglass devised a way to escape using his ability to write, and the adaptation ends with this clever scheme. An author's appended note reveals the attempt failed, but three years later, Douglass succeeded. Realistic acrylic and oil paintings portray harsh images of slavery. Cows graze in the field as slaves eat their meal from a trough. In a dramatic scene, young Frederick sits high on dock bales quietly reading by moon glow as unaware wealthy men walk below. Short enough for reading aloud in one session, this handsome retelling is an inspiring resource for primary-school classes and older reluctant readers. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

----------------------
BookPage Reviews 2012 February
African-American tales of triumph

Black History Month is a special period of celebration and commemoration—a time for looking back at the individuals and events that made progress possible. In honor of this special time, BookPage has rounded up a group of new picture books that chronicle some of the highlights of the African-American legacy.

MAKING SPIRITS SOAR
In Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, Ann Malaspina revisits a thrilling chapter in American sports—the story of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Born in Albany, Georgia, to impoverished parents, Alice Coachman seems destined to defy gravity. Leaping over tree roots and shooting baskets with towering boys, practicing the high jump with a crossbar made of branches and rags, Alice, as depicted in Eric Velasquez’s dynamic paintings, seems always to be airborne. Her father disapproves of her tomboyish behavior, but when she’s invited to join the Tuskegee Institute’s famous Golden Tigerettes track team, Alice develops skills that take her to the 1948 London Olympics. There she soars farther than she ever imagined, setting a new Olympic high jump record. Malaspina employs a spirited prose style to tell the story of Alice’s extraordinary career.

A LEADER GETS HIS START
Proving that knowledge really is power, Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass recounts the rise of one of America’s greatest orators. Frederick Douglass spends his early childhood on a Maryland plantation where slaves caught reading are severely punished. When he’s transferred to the home of the Auld family in Baltimore, Frederick gets his first taste of formal education. Kind-hearted Missus Auld gives him lessons in the alphabet, and Frederick is soon obsessed, practicing in secret with a brick and chalk. At the age of 12, he buys his first newspaper and encounters words like “abolition” and “liberty.” Against all odds, Frederick educates himself and—later on, at great risk—his fellow slaves. By unlocking the secrets of language, he arms himself for the future. Featuring beautifully nuanced pictures by the author’s husband, James E. Ransome, this moving book comes with a clear message: Education is the key to success.

OVATION FOR A LEGEND
With Jazz Age Josephine, Jonah Winter offers an irresistible homage to a groundbreaking performer. Born dirt poor in St. Louis, Missouri, young Josephine Baker spends part of her childhood in the city slums, where she’s taunted by other kids. Using theatrics as a survival tactic—clowning and dancing to hide her hurt—she makes a little money and eventually joins a traveling show as a dancer, but the blues follow. At one point, she’s so broke, a bench in Central Park serves as her bed. At the age of 19, Josephine takes off for Paris, where she finds her artistic footing and gets a taste of what liberation is like. Embracing her race and blossoming as a performer, she hits the heights of fame but never forgets her St. Louis roots. Winter’s blues-inflected writing style is perfectly complemented by Marjorie Priceman’s bright, impressionistic visuals. Brimming with infectious energy, Winter’s book is a showstopper from start to finish.

HOME RUN HERO
Showing how team spirit in sports helped break down racial barriers, Chris Crowe’s Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game is a wonderful depiction of the brotherhood of baseball. It’s the fall of 1948, and the city of Cleveland is humming with anticipation for game four of the World Series—a contest between the city’s own Indians and the Boston Braves. An African-American boy named Homer narrates the events of the big day, as he and his parents gather around the radio to listen to the game. Homer’s hero, Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, will be stepping up to the plate. When Doby hits a home run in the third inning, he makes history, becoming the first African-American ballplayer to do so in the World Series. Mike Benny depicts Homer’s wide-eyed excitement through luminous illustrations, while Crowe seamlessly weaves facts and stats from the actual game into the storyline.

VERSES OF FREEDOM
Ntozake Shange is a beloved African-American playwright, poet and novelist. With Freedom’s
a-Callin’ Me
, she delivers a timeless collection of verse inspired by the Underground Railroad—dramatic and impassioned poems about slaves dreaming of escape, the white folks who help them and the trackers who trail them. Shange writes with wonderful authenticity and an ear for syntax, conjuring up a group of unforgettable narrators who experience hope, danger and loss on the road to a better life. The book’s title poem eloquently describes one man’s plan to flee, to “mix myself way low in the cotton . . . wind myself like a snake / till ah can swim ’cross the stream.” The poems are filled with arresting imagery—slave hunters leading ferocious hounds, overseers wielding their whips—which Rod Brown brings to life in his sensitively rendered paintings. Throughout the book, Shange offers different perspectives and stories to create a multifaceted look at the secret system that changed so many lives. This is a wonderful introduction to an important chapter in African-American history—and to the narrative possibilities of poetry.

A REMARKABLE DAY
Written and illustrated by acclaimed author Shane W. ­Evans, We March is a stirring account of a history-making event as seen through the eyes of one African-American family. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people came together for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an episode forever inscribed on the American memory thanks to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Evans’ tale brings the momentous day down to a personal level, as the family prepares to march, painting signs, praying and joining the procession to the Lincoln Memorial. Evans’ brief, poetic lines have a simple majesty that reflects the significance of the occasion. His vibrantly illustrated story gives readers a sense of what it might have been like to join the crowd taking crucial steps on the road to freedom.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

----------------------
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
Vibrant acrylic and oil paint illustrations accompany this story of Frederick Douglass's childhood from plantation life to city life in Baltimore, where his owner's kind wife taught him the alphabet and introduced him to literacy and the idea of freedom. The powerful narrative provides a solid introduction to Douglass and the topic of slavery.

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2012 January #1
For the enslaved child who grew up to be Frederick Douglass, learning to read led to freedom and a life of activism committed to abolition. Cline-Ransome has based her story on Douglass' autobiography, giving the gravitas and formality of the adult to the child. She describes his childhood on a Maryland plantation, including his separation from his mother and the ill treatment he and all the other enslaved children received. Sold to his owner's relatives, the Aulds, in Baltimore, Frederick Bailey, as he was then known, was taught to read from the Bible by Auld's kindly wife. When her good deed was discovered by her husband, she was forced to close her library to Frederick. Undeterred, he practiced reading on the streets and along the waterfront. Ransome uses acrylic and oil paints to create a palette rich in the blues and greens of the Chesapeake region. The portrait on the back cover is particularly striking. Husband and wife have been frequent, successful collaborators, and this title is equally commendable. One caveat, though: Ending with Douglass' successful escape rather than a failed one would have been preferable. A solid effort that offers young readers a glimpse into the lives of children in the time of slavery and appreciate the development of a most notable life. (author's note, bibliography, timeline) (Picture book/biography. 6-10) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

----------------------
Library Media Connection Reviews 2012 August/September
In this story of Frederick Douglass's early years, readers see slavery through a young child's eyes, and hear what it was like to live on a plantation. He left the only home he had known at the age of eight for Baltimore where he had been rented out. There, the wife of his new master taught him to read, a life-changing event. When sent back to the South, he passed on his knowledge to others and attempted an escape. In the author's note, readers are given information about Douglass's eventual escape on the Underground Railroad and his work with the Anti-Slavery Society. A short bibliography and timeline are included. Text and illustrations work in harmony to capture the times. While much has been written about this man, the emphasis on his formative years brings an added dimension for readers. Leslie Greaves Radloff, Teacher Library Media Specialist, St. Paul (Minnesota) Public Schools [Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED Copyright 2012 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 November #4

Drawing from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the Ransomes (Before There Was Mozart) create a powerful biographical account of the anti-slavery crusader, writer, and orator's early life. Writing from Douglass's first-person perspective, Lesa Cline Ransome plainly relays the inhuman treatment of plantation slaves--"even the animals were rested in the heat of the afternoon sun, and they were never whipped bloody for being too tired or too sick or too slow"--and expresses how learning to read was a catalyst for Douglass's liberation. "I bought my first newspaper and learned new words--liberty, justice, and freedom.... These were the words my master would never want me to see." Ransome's acrylic and oil paintings combine striking naturalism with a palette of inky greens and blues; after Douglass uses his writing skills to forge a letter from his master releasing him, a final spread shows him looking boldly toward the North Star. Though an author's note explains that Douglass did not successfully escape that night (but did three years later), the story concludes with a sense of hope and determination. Ages 5-9. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

----------------------
School Library Journal Reviews 2012 January

Gr 2-5--This powerful, eloquent first-person narrative provides a moving account of Douglass's early life. Born and raised on plantations, he spent his formative years in Baltimore in the 1820s and '30s. His thirst to learn to read never waivered; he practiced writing with a brick and a lump of chalk, copying the letters of poor white children and stealing a copybook from his master's son. At 12-years-old, Douglass bought his first newspaper with tips he had earned. He copied words like "liberty," "justice," "freedom," and "abolition" and was inspired. Though this account ends with a hopeful plan to escape, an author's note reveals that he was unsuccessful but that he did escape in 1838 to New York, where he began his new life as an abolitionist leader. This talented team has created a concise, accessible, beautifully illustrated book based on Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Rich acrylic and oil paintings depict plantation life (poorly clothed slave children kneeling before troughs, devouring cornmeal mush like livestock) and the strong emotions of the people (a young Frederick being transported with hands tied behind his back, lest he escape). This handsome volume is recommended for slightly older audiences than William Miller and Cedric Lucas's Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery (Lee & Low, 1995).--Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY

[Page 91]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

----------------------