By Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. There are many books about Harriet Tubman telling the story of her life and her courageous fight for freedom. She was born in Maryland around 1820, one of eleven children born to her parents in slavery. She ran away several times but was always recaptured. Finally in 1849, with the threat of being sold down south to worse conditions she made it safely all the way to Philadelphia. She worked and saved once there and learned the secrets of the Underground Railroad. She felt called to return to the South again and again helping to bring her family and as many as three hundred others to freedom in the North.
This retelling of her story shows Harriett a deeply spiritual woman in tune with her God. The text is poetic and follows the call and response style of the African American church tradition. She pours out her heart and hears God speak. She obeys that Voice of courage and promise and follows the Spirit’s prompt. This text is lyrical and filled with wonder. “God cradles her”. “A heart song lulls her to sleep”. “A mosquito buzzes in Harriet’s ear. She rises and moves on.” “God speaks through a babbling brook.” One of the delightful things here is that God speaks in the language reminiscent of the old spirituals.
The illustrations are breath-taking. Because most of her journey is at night the pictures are done in dark tones and muted colors. The way the light plays across her beautiful face draws your heart into her longing and pain. When light washes in from the full moon, the breaking dawn, twilight sky or glorious Philadelphia mid-day her soul glows with passion. The very last picture of her at the end reminds me of an icon or a Buddha, with light pouring around her in a heavenly cloud of glory. Her face and hands shout strength, determination and victory. God’s blessing is written “Well done, Moses, well done.” Of all the Harriett books I have ever read, this is my favorite. The Forward and the Author’s Note at the end give background information for history students. This is a masterful work of art to be shared with young and old.
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