As we begin African-American History Month, you may want to consider some picture books to share with your family. One of the topics that is popular with our Library patrons is the Underground Railroad. Students often study this in school, so a Library book on the same topic is a perfect way to expand on their classroom activities.
A Good Night for Freedom is especially noteworthy because it is set in Indiana at the home of Levi Coffin, a Hoosier who helped thousands of slaves escape to freedom. The Levi Coffin House, located in Fountain City, Indiana, is now a registered National Historic Landmark.
The journey to freedom was extremely hazardous, and slaves relied on the North Star to point the way to Canada. Deborah Hopkinson also uses the common belief that slaves looked for safe houses designated by certain quilt patterns in her book, Under the Quilt of Night.
Shane Evans uses minimal text in Underground, but the illustrations brilliantly show the danger of escape and the triumph of arriving in a place of freedom. Moses by Carole Weatherford focuses on the religious faith which led Harriet Tubman to become the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad.
If your children become really interested in this topic, we also have some chapter books that would be great to read together.
Writer/illustrator Ashley Bryan is one of the most beloved and one of the most critically praised figures in Children’s Literature. He has received both the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for his extensive body of work. His books have brought joy to countless readers through the years. His latest work takes a more serious turn, but it’s a book that should be widely shared in families and schools. Using historical documents from an 1800’s estate sale, Bryan has given a personality and a voice to eleven slaves. In the author’s note, Bryan states:
“My art and writing of this story aim to bring the slaves alive as human beings. I began by creating painted portraits of these eleven slaves. I studied each one, listening for their voices. I wrote what I heard in free verse to give emphasis to their words. These words tell of their backgrounds and their work on the estate. Then, to bring these people closer, I wrote their inner thoughts as they went about their work, then created the art that illustrates these individuals’ desires to realize their dreams.”
I hope you will find this book on our shelves and be touched by these narratives. After reading the book, you can find more information about the places and things mentioned by following these links.
Stephen’s dreams: the stone builders of Zimbabwe
Jane’s dreams: the weaving of Kente cloth
John’s dreams: the Kingdom of Dahomey
Athelia’s dreams: the griots of Mali
Qush’s dreams: the Yoruba people
The Aurora Public Library District has several other of Ashley Bryan’s books including the ones shown below.
You can find out more about Ashley Bryan by visiting the link for the Ashley Bryan Center. His autobiography is also a great way to learn about all the ways he expresses his creativity.