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Recommended reading about Harriet Tubman

Today the U. S. Treasury announced that Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. The new design will be revealed in 2020. To celebrate, here are a handful of books about Tubman’s life and legacy, all reviewed and recommended at the time of their publication by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide.


carson_which way to freedomMary Kay Carson’s Which Way to Freedom?: And Other Questions About the Underground Railroad [Good Question! series] uses a thoughtful question-and-answer format to broadly examine the issue of slavery in the U.S. through discussion of the Underground Railroad. Carson defines the network that formed the “railroad,” pinpoints abuses that led to its development, and chronicles its workings. Recognition is given to Harriet Tubman, the Quakers, and other figures who aided escapees. Full-page illustrations and maps accompany the readable text. (Sterling, 2015)

grimes_chasing freedomIn Nikki Grimes’s substantial picture book Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts, best for mid-primary graders, Tubman and Anthony sit down for tea. In a chatty imagined narrative, the women discuss their own lives in the context of major historical events. Inspired by a series of dramatic monologues written by Grimes in 1988, this ambitious project is both intimate and illuminating. Michele Wood’s colorful, folksy paintings convey much emotional nuance. Extensive back matter provides additional historical information. (Scholastic/Orchard, 2015)

lawrence_harriet and the promised land2Jacob Lawrence’s striking, oversized picture book Harriet and the Promised Land tells the heroic story of Harriet Tubman, “born a slave.” The bold, angular pictures, in pure, contrasting colors, are composed like murals; their power gives the book dramatic impact for reading aloud. A welcome reissue of one of the first children’s books illustrated by an African-American artist (originally published in 1968 by Windmill). (Simon, 1993)

ringgold_aunt harriet's underground railroad in the skyCassie Louise Lightfoot, the resourceful heroine from Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach, flies again in Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky. As she and her brother, Be Be, fly among the stars, they spot an old train onto which Be Be jumps. Then Harriet Tubman arrives, taking Cassie back more than one hundred years to guide her up the route to freedom in Canada, where she is reunited with Be Be. Ringgold pieces together a beautifully illustrated dream sequence based on Tubman’s actual dream of flying to freedom. An excellent vehicle for discussion and visual enjoyment. Biographical notes, a map, and bibliography included. (Crown, 1995)

schroeder_mintyAlan Schroeder’s Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, a fictionalized account based on fact, details the early life of Harriet Tubman, whose “cradle name” was Araminta, and who would later become a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Quick action and dialogue create a taut story and clearly depict Minty’s strong-willed nature and her desire for freedom. Jerry Pinkney’s watercolors provide detail and depth in this intriguing and emotional portrait. (Dial, 1996)

weatherford_mosesAuthor Carole Boston Weatherford’s poetic text pairs with Kadir Nelson’s atmospheric paintings to portray the spiritual life of the African American visionary in Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. From her days as a slave to her life as a free person, three narrative voices (a third-person narrator, Harriet herself, and God’s words to Harriet) make clear that it was Tubman’s faith that sustained her on the freedom journeys. (Hyperion/Jump, 2006)



adler_harriet tubman and the underground railroadDavid A. Adler weds historical context with humanizing details to bring Tubman’s heroic story alive in Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. This report-ready biography focuses on Tubman’s work as an Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist, offering ample primary source and first-person quotations as well as period photos (all well-sourced) to illustrate the social and political climate in which she worked. Brief bookend chapters document her early life and later years. (Holiday, 2013)

allen_harriet tubman secret agentIn Thomas B. Allen’s Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union during the Civil War, Tubman’s life story (interwoven with the events of the Civil War) reads like an adventure novel. Nevertheless, the well-documented book, cleverly illustrated by Carla Bauer and designed to look like a vintage volume, separates fact from myth. Extensive appendices include source notes, a map, and a spy code (several codes are hidden throughout for readers to solve). (National Geographic, 2006)

nolen_eliza's freedom roadEliza, a young slave girl, follows Harriet Tubman’s call to freedom in Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary. On the journey North, she brings with her a story quilt crafted by her mother, raising the spirits of her fellow travelers by relating the quilt’s tales of strength, courage, and wisdom. Author Jerdine Nolen gracefully conveys the desperation, determination, and steadfastness of fugitive slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad. (Simon/Wiseman, 2011)



  1. Thank for this list! Look, too at this poem from Eloise Greenfield’s Honey, I Love:

  2. Thanks for the article on Harriet Tubman.

    Jacob Lawrence’s ‘Harriet and the Promised Land’ is a fascinating book.

    The large images/murals are wonderful.

  3. Great to see Harriet Tubman being recognized on the new 20 dollar bill.

  4. Good to see that Harriet Tubman will be recognized in 2020 – on the 20 dollar bill.

    I have the Schroeder book, listed above, namely: Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman. This account (albeit some of it fictionalized) of her early life makes for fascinating reading. Highly recommended.

    She had a most interesting life.

    Thanks for the article/review.

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