Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Celebrating Black History: stories about the Underground Railroad (ages 4 - 10)

Students at our school are fascinated to learn about the Underground Railroad. We use historical fiction and nonfiction to pull our students back in time. Three picture books stand out for me, because of the way that they help young children feel the tension and drama of this time in history.

Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2011
ages 4-9
watch the book trailer
available at your local library and on Amazon
With sparse text and powerful imagery, Evans brings young readers into the world of a family escaping from slavery. A family gathers to escape, only their wide eyes showing in the blackness of night. They run barefoot through woods, at each step watchful for the patrollers looking for runaways. Use this powerful picture book as an introduction to the Underground Railroad. Evans' powerful illustrations help young children put themselves in the situation, connecting with the intense emotions, drama and tension of the experience.
Almost to Freedom
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
illustrations by Colin Bootman
Carolrhoda / Lerner, 2003
2004 Coretta Scott King illustrator honor
ages 6-10
available at your local library and on Amazon
Young Lindy fiercely clings to her rag doll, Sally, through hard days and nights with her family as slaves on a plantation. The doll Sally tells this story, sharing how Lindy's mama Miz Rachel made her out of "no more'n a bunch of rags" and carefully stitching her face on. When Lindy's father is sold after trying to escape, Lindy hugs Sally "so hard I think my insides'll bust" - and young readers will know how much this doll brings Lindy comfort.

Sally tells of the night when Lindy and her mother escape to freedom, meeting their father and crossing over the river. Sally's voice is at once familiar and colloquial, helping readers connect emotionally to the story. I particularly liked the way that the doll helped readers understand the frightening situations that children went through, while emphasizing the hope and comfort family can bring.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad
by Henry Cole
Scholastic, 2012
ages 6-10
available at your local library and on Amazon
This wordless book makes you think at each step of the way, as you unravel and make sense of the story. A young girl crosses to the barn to do her chores, and she's startled by a noise in the corn husks. But as you look more closely at the corn, you realize that a person is hiding among the stalks. The young girl courageously brings food packages out to the barn, but the two never speak. She knows it's a tense time - she's seen a group of mounted Confederate soldiers pass by, and bounty hunters bring reward posters to the farm.

As the pieces of the puzzle came together for my 2nd graders, they were amazed at the young girl's kindness and courage, and the runaway slave's daunting challenge escaping to freedom. We talk all the time about "reading is thinking" and Henry Cole asks his readers to do just this. On our first read, some of my students were frustrated that we never see the full face of the African American hiding in the corn stalks. But as we talked about it today, those same students talked about how much this story stayed with them. Cole's pencil drawings evoke the girl's emotions and the setting of Civil War Virginia, creating tension and mystery within this quiet book.

The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to do something different this year for Black History Month. I tried, and my students completely enjoyed, the Underground Railroad unit on Scholastic.com (http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/underground_railroad/index.htm). I didn't know these books were out there, so I will get them and use them next year. Thank you.