Review of Harriet Tubman: Toward Freedom

Harriet Tubman: Toward Freedom
by Whit Taylor; illus. by Kazimir Lee
Middle School, High School    Little, Brown    112 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-7595-5550-1    $19.99
Paper ed.  978-0-7595-5551-8    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7595-5766-6    $9.99

This Center for Cartoon Studies Presents entry (most recently, Glynnis Fawkes’s Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre, rev. 11/19) spotlights the life and legacy of famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. Biographical information is conveyed through sequential art and dialogue, including a fictionalized meeting with Philadelphia abolitionist William Still. The story also zooms in on Tubman’s successful effort in 1854 to help her brothers escape enslavement. Rectangular panels depict mostly realistic scenes, with thick black outlines and muted, shadowy shades of pink and blue; whimsical, feather- and firework-like shapes are used to symbolize her unwavering faith and belief that God was offering her direction. Shifts in visual perspective emphasize sensory-rich, scene-setting details (mice scurrying, lanterns buzzing, trains passing, etc.). The “spells” Tubman experienced after an overseer threw a heavy weight at her forehead are illustrated, as well as the subterfuges, codes, and traditions enslaved people developed to survive and celebrate their lives despite the oppression they faced and actively fought. The people highlighted have agency and courage, with their humanity and hope centered. (At one point Tubman says, about her failed marriage, “What can you do but move forward?”) With an introduction by Carole Boston Weatherford and back matter including “Panel Discussions” and source notes detailing the creative liberties taken for dramatic effect.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elisa Gall

Elisa Gall is a teacher-librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. 

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