Need to refresh your knowledge of great abolitionist Frederick Douglass? Want to introduce his life and accomplishments to a young reader? Looking for Douglass to round out your Black History Month or social justice reading recommendations?
The following children’s and teen books, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide at the time of their publication, offer a good entry point into Douglass’s invaluable legacy. Reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Armand, Glenda Love Twelve Miles Long
32 pp. Lee 2011
Trade ISBN 978-1-60060-245-0
Illustrated by Colin Bootman. This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness.
Cline-Ransome, Lesa Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass
32 pp. Simon/Wiseman 2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-4169-5903-8
Illustrated by James E. Ransome. Vibrant acrylic and oil paint illustrations accompany this story of Frederick Douglass’s childhood from plantation life to city life in Baltimore, where his owner’s kind wife taught him the alphabet and introduced him to literacy and the idea of freedom. The powerful narrative provides a solid introduction to Douglass and the topic of slavery.
Girard, Linda Walvoord and Bootman, Colin Young Frederick Douglass: The Slave Who Learned to Read
40 pp. Whitman 1994
Paperback ISBN 0-8075-9463-6
Drawing much of its information from Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, the book focuses on his desire to read and the impact that reading had on his future as an orator and abolitionist. Colorful paintings convey his spirit in the lucid adaptation of his life.
Miller, William and Lucas, Cedric Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery
32 pp. Lee 1995
Trade ISBN 1-880000-17-2
Simple prose and artwork in deep, muted tones depict the harsh experiences that finally prompted young Frederick Douglass to rebel against a certain cruel slave-breaker. The picture-book account is a powerful introduction to slavery and to this notable speaker and writer of the antislavery movement. A brief author’s note gives further information about Douglass.
Rappaport, Doreen Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass
48 pp. Disney/Jump 2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4231-1438-3
Illustrated by London Ladd. There are many longer books that detail the events of Douglass’s life, but this one, in picture-book form, manages to synthesize those details just as well as a longer work might. This is due to Rappaport’s carefully chosen primary source quotations and Ladd’s paintings, which alternate between moments of violence and times of reflection — all resulting in a portrait that is fiery yet dignified. Author’s and illustrator’s notes are appended. Reading list, timeline, websites. Bib.
Robbins, Dean Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
32 pp. Scholastic/Orchard 2016
Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Sitting down to tea, real-life friends Anthony and Douglass discuss their ideas and plans for action. An accessible text gives a broad picture of each civil rights leader’s work; striking mixed-media and collage illustrations depict scenes from their lives. Though they fought separately for freedom and voting rights, the book captures the unifying themes of combating injustice. An informative author’s note is included. Bib.
Adler, David A. Frederick Douglass: A Noble Life
144 pp. Holiday 2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-8234-2056-8
This well-researched volume recounts, in fluid prose, the life of Frederick Douglass, from tortured slave (finally escaping in 1838), to world renowned orator, statesman, and heroic leader of the abolitionist movement. Throughout the text, Adler incorporates Douglass’s own words, reinforcing the message of freedom and education for today’s readers. Many photographs, sketches, historical documents, and newspaper clippings illustrate the volume. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Freedman, Russell Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
119 pp. Clarion 2012
Despite meeting only three times, Lincoln and Douglass formed a lasting friendship based on mutual admiration, respect, and trust. Through this friendship — an extremely effective structure — Freedman surveys the tenor of the times regarding slavery, abolition, the Civil War, and emancipation. Included are period illustrations and a generous assortment of the subjects’ own words. Notes. Bib., ind.
McCurdy, Michael Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass in His Own Words
64 pp. Knopf 1994
Trade ISBN 0-679-84652-2
Paperback ISBN 0-679-84651-4
Foreword by Coretta Scott King. The spirit of Frederick Douglass’s narrative remains unbroken in this choice selection of words written by the famed former slave and abolitionist about his boyhood in Maryland. McCurdy’s clear, brief summaries substitute for missing sections, and ten stunning black-and-white scratchboard illustrations show the indignation and suffering of Douglass.
Burchard, Peter Frederick Douglass: For the Great Family of Man
228 pp. Atheneum 2003
Trade ISBN 0-689-83240-0
This thoroughly researched biography covers Douglass’s childhood and young adult years in slavery and his escape from Maryland to Massachusetts. Details of his adult life and concurrent larger events form a well-told story. Burchard sketches the complexities of Douglass’s family life and important friendships with men and women. Photographs, prints, and endnotes augment the well-crafted narrative. Bib., ind.
Meltzer, Milton and Alcorn, Stephen Frederick Douglass: In His Own Words
222 pp. Harcourt 1995
Trade ISBN 0-15-229492-9
Meltzer makes Douglass’s writings and speeches accessible to a wide audience in this remarkable work. Carefully organized, the selections are divided into three groups: “Before the War,” “The War Years,” and “After the War.” Alcorn’s breathtaking linocuts are strong, dramatic statements, memorable in intensity and haunting in effect. Source notes included. Ind.