Review of Freedom Bird

Freedom Bird
by Jerdine Nolen; illus. by James E. Ransome
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    32 pp.
1/20    978-0-689-87167-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-0222-4    $10.99

Nolen presents an original story about flight and freedom — the former an enduring motif, the latter a recurrent theme, in African American folklore. Millicent and John worked alongside their parents and other enslaved people on Simon Plenty’s plantation. Before their parents had been sold away, “back in the long-ago days,” they told the children about how “our people could fly away to freedom as free and easy as any bird,” a dream John and Millicent carry with them during the long hours of labor in the fields. One day, a majestic bird circling above catches the attention of the overseer, who rips it from flight with a swift snap of his whip. That night, worrying about the bird and forbidden to care for it, the children nevertheless race through the darkness to save it and begin nursing it back to health. The next day brings the news that John has been hired away, leaving Millicent alone, for months, to care for the bird. While John is absent, the bird and Millicent develop a special bond that strengthens her resolve for flight: “It felt to Millicent that she had grown her own wings and she could indeed fly.” When John returns and the children learn that he is soon to be sold to another plantation, they decide to escape, following the bird westward toward freedom. Nolen’s lively prose style recalls the richness of the oral tradition in this tale of triumphant courage and abiding hope. Ransome’s acrylic paintings masterfully capture the mood of the story through dramatic images: the children running, the bird in flight.

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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