Monday, January 15, 2007

Two book reviews for Martin Luther King Day

Both of these books are illustrated by the wonderfully talented Kadir Nelson. First up?



Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrations by Kadir Nelson

Henry Brown was born into slavery in Virginia. Interesting/startling/sad facts about slavery are incorporated seamlessly into the text. For instance, Henry doesn't know how old he is because slaves aren't allowed to know their birthdays. Also, "ownership" of Henry is easily transferred between family members. As a young man, Henry is permitted to marry a slave from another family, and they are allowed to live together (which wasn't exactly typical). When Henry's wife and children are sold and hauled away, Henry's thoughts turn to freedom. With the help of an abolitionist doctor, Henry literally mails himself to freedom. He is crated, then shipped by various means to one of the doctor's friends in Philadelphia, PA.

The illustrations are thoughtfully and exquisitely rendered. The additional biographical material at the end of the book really fills some of the gaps in the story.




MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherfod, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

A fictionalized account of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and her work on the Underground Railroad. The facts of her escape are essentially correct, but this particular telling of Tubman's story includes her thoughts and conversations with God, which is where the fictionalization comes in. The book tracks not only Harriet's physical journey to freedom, but also her spiritual journey as well. Nelson's illustrations are nearly miraculous in rendering not just the people he depicts, but their emotional states as well. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this one on the 2006 Caldecott shortlist when the awards are handed out on January 22nd. (Henry is a 2007 book, and is therefore not yet eligible.)

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