By Children's Literature blogger, Julie Swenson
The book Escape from Slavery, by Doreen Rappaport contained five stories about slaves who escaped their owners to gain what all people deserve--freedom. The first story told of a mother and her daughter escaping from her master’s home and crossing a half frozen river to leave the slave state of Kentucky and reach the free state of Ohio. The mother and daughter left for Canada using the Underground Railroad.
The second story told of two slave girls, who were running from their slave owner and the law. The two girls were being hidden at a place called Cabin Creek. They were made to look like boys, so their pursuers would move on, giving them the opportunity to flee again. They were taken farther away from their hiding place, finding a new secret hide-out, until they eventually moved on with the Underground Railroad to the country of Canada.
The next story narrates an unusual means of escape. A man traveled by horse and wagon, hidden inside a two-and-a-half-foot wide, three-foot long, two-foot-eight-inches deep box. The slave stayed inside this box for two days living on what little water and biscuits he stored with him inside the box. He eventually reached his destination and continued working toward his freedom. He, too, made it to Canada.
The fourth story tells of a slave woman named Jane and her two children who also desire freedom. The master was thinking of selling the slave woman’s sons and she would not have it. She already lost her oldest son, due to the master selling him last year. They left for New York, as the master’s plan was to have her sons leave for Nicaragua to be sold. The master told the slave woman not to talk to anyone, but Jane stopped another woman and told her she was a slave and that she and her children wanted to be free. The woman helped her out. Eventually, two men came up to Jane, her sons, and her master, and told Jane she hds the right to be free. The master angrily told the two men that Jane knew her rights and she was free if she wanted to be. Jane said she would like to be free, but knew she wasn’t because she belonged to her master. She and her two sons left with the two men. Her master became angry and tried to grab Jane. He raised an uproar and had the two men, plus a few other colored men who helped Jane and her boys get away, thrown in jail. He claimed his slave and the two boys were kidnapped. Jane had to testify against her master, claiming she was not kidnapped and that she left in order to gain freedom. Jane and her children left for Canada by the Underground Railroad.
The last story described how a man and a woman, who were slaves, fooled many people to gain their freedom. The slave woman was born to a black woman and a white man, and her color was as close to white as it could be. They decided to disguise her as being an old, fragile, and sick white master, who was escorted by “his(her)” slave. They cut her hair short and she wore a bandage around her face, to hide her womanly features. They placed her arm in a sling, so she wouldn’t have to sign any documentation. She faced people she knew and many strangers, but no one recognized her as a woman. They had obtained their freedom by pretending to be someone else. The two had moved to another country, but eventually moved back to the United States and bought a plantation.
All the stories in this book were good and there are so many points of discussion a class could have (fear, courage, freedom, the Underground Railroad, escape, thoughts about slavery, happiness, sadness, a person’s rights, the 13th Amendment, justice). I am sure there are many more good books that talk about the slavery time period. Lessons could probably go on for at least two weeks. I kept debating whether this book was fiction or non-fiction, since it was told in story-form, but after reading about the author and her research, I put my mind to rest that this was a non-fiction book. I think this writing style pulled me into the book deeper. This book would be a great addition to a teacher’s classroom library!
Suggested teaching resource from HarperCollins.