Review of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

bryan_freedom-over-mestar2 Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
by Ashley Bryan; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate, Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    56 pp.
9/16    978-1-4814-5690-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-5691-3    $10.99

A historical document dated July 5, 1828, lists the property to be sold from the Fairchilds’ estate. Hogs. Cattle. A handmill. Men. Women. Children. While no information beyond the gender and name — and price — of each of the eleven enslaved people is noted in the appraisal of the estate, Bryan lovingly restores their humanity and dignity, giving them ages, true African names, relationships, talents, hopes, and dreams. Here is the account of eleven human beings, all of whom are aware of what they contribute to the Fairchilds plantation and, more importantly, what they would like to contribute to the world. Each slave is afforded two double-page spreads of poetry: the first spread serves as his or her introduction; the second is devoted to his or her dreams. We meet Peggy, the Fairchilds’ cook, who is praised by the Fairchilds for the spices she adds to meals at the Big House. In “Peggy Dreams,” she remembers her life in Africa and reveals that she’s proud of her ability to heal injured fellow slaves through her work with roots and herbs. Bacus is known for his metalwork in fencing the Big House, but his dream admits that the pounding of the metal is “an outlet for anger, for rage…a blow for justice…a cry for respect.” Bryan’s art is just as intentional. Facsimiles of the historical document serve as background for each slave’s introduction page, portraits of their faces taking precedence as they gaze out at the reader. The portraits are etched in a manner similar to wood carvings, suggesting the mask each slave wears for day-to-day life on the plantation. In contrast to the dry, parchment-like tones of the introductions, the dream spreads are in gloriously brilliant colors, as bold as the aspirations of the individuals themselves.

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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