Sunday, February 5, 2017

Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan -- compelling, heartfelt look into the life and dreams of 11 slaves (ages 7-11)

As I've honored Black History Month with my students, I've been reading aloud a powerful new book: Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. This compelling story will help young readers understand about the cruelties and injustices of slavery, but even more so it brings alive the hopes and pride of individual people caught in this cruel system.
Freedom Over Me
Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams
brought to life by Ashley Bryan
Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
Newbery Honor Award
Coretta Scott King Author & Illustrator Honor Awards
Your local library
ages 7-11
*best new book*
Based on an 1828 document listing 11 slaves for sale, Ashley Bryan created portraits of each slave using paintings and free verse poetry--asking each slave to tell their own stories. Bryan creates full lives for each person, helping readers understand their hopes and dreams, as well as their pain and struggles.
Peggy: "I am the Fairchilds' cook.
I work in the Big House
day in, day out"
Each portrait helps readers look more closely, imagining these lives with empathy and compassion. Peggy works hard as the cook, and her mistress often invites friends over to take pleasure in her cooking. She is clear: all of her hard work profits the estate. As the head cook, she can explore the grounds, learning about local plants for cooking and for cures.
"My knowledge makes me
hunger for more.
Relieving the aches,
the pains,
the suffering
of the slaves
is my chief joy."
Herb Doctor is the title Peggy most prizes, for it is when she prepares these cures that she feels pride and accomplishment. Steaming herbs "stirs ancestral memories--my roots in Africa" as she makes cures for her slave family.

Historical fiction enables Bryan to bring his readers close to his subject, making it personal and compelling. He first drew portraits of each one, giving them an job on the estate, asking them to tell him their story. As he told Kirkus Reviews in an interview,
"After the 11 slaves told me their stories, I was deeply moved by their lives. Knowing that human beings all have dreams that we hope to realize, I thought of asking them what their dreams would be if they were living as free people. Their dreams are what brought each one to my heart and soul."
Bryan's hope and optimism shines through in these stories. My students were able to think about the cruelties of slavery, but they were really impressed by the strength and courage of each person. They saw how important community, extended family, and personal history was to each person. Most importantly, my students understood the pride and accomplishment each person felt in their work and in their craft.
Ashley Bryan reads aloud from Freedom Over Me
If you want to explore more resources for this book, I recommend looking at the following:
I'd like to end with this video. I love the sense you get of Ashley Bryan's passion for poetry sparking a light in each person, for loving who you are, honoring what you create.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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