Freedom River

Freedom River

by Doreen Rappaport

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One thousand feet across the Ohio River lay Ripley, Ohio-and freedom. Before the Civil War, Kentucky was a slave state, while Ohio remained free. Time and time again, John Parker, an ex-slave who had bought his own freedom, led Kentucky slaves across a thin stretch of river to Ohio, and safety. These dangerous journeys demanded a tremendous amount of courage,…  See more details below


One thousand feet across the Ohio River lay Ripley, Ohio-and freedom. Before the Civil War, Kentucky was a slave state, while Ohio remained free. Time and time again, John Parker, an ex-slave who had bought his own freedom, led Kentucky slaves across a thin stretch of river to Ohio, and safety. These dangerous journeys demanded a tremendous amount of courage, planning, and faith. Freedom River is based on a true story of one man's determination to help an African American family escape from slavery along the legendary Underground Railroad.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
One dramatically told, suspense-filled incident based on fact brings the history of the Underground Railroad into focus for young readers. John Parker, an ex-slave who has bought his freedom, runs a business in Ripley, Ohio, only a thousand feet of Ohio River away from the slave state of Kentucky. He must twice dare the crossing to bring a family to freedom. The repetition of "Run, run," "Crawl, crawl," "Wait, wait," and "Listen, listen," raises the level of tension in the narrative. Collier's visual telling is equally dramatic, contributing a powerful emotional impact. He combines cut and torn patterned papers to create the settings, with modeled, painted faces in full-page scenes that are energized by the construction and combination. He includes vignettes of those he calls "protectors," spiritual ancestors painted with symbolic wavy lines on their faces to symbolize the river, the "key to freedom." The period map on the endpapers shows us the river, while notes fill in both the historic background and the motivations of author and illustrator. 2000, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Freedom River, an historical picture book, is sure to capture the reader's attention with the true story of an adventure in the life of John Parker—a conductor on the underground railroad in Ripley, Ohio. John Parker, born a slave in 1827, bought his own freedom and became a successful businessman. He helped many slaves cross the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ripley. Knowing that he was wanted—dead or alive—did not stop him. In this story, John Parker helps a young couple and their baby find freedom. Shrofe, Sarah and Isaac's master, hears that John Parker has visited his plantation and may have encouraged Sarah and Isaac to escape. Shrofe takes their baby away and makes Sarah sleep at the foot of his bed. (He also keeps a loaded pistol by his side.) This does not stop John Parker from creeping into Shrofe's room, scooping up the baby, racing to the river where he meets Sarah and Isaac, and rowing his passengers to the Ohio shore. Freedom River is told at a brisk pace. It is exciting to hear when read aloud. The breathless quality of the language adds to the suspense. Author Doreen Rappaport is quite successful in revealing John Parker's persistence and daring. She uses short scenes with well-chosen words to show the fear the parents feel that their family may become separated. She boldly conveys the danger and the risk of trying to escape, as well as the difficulty of the dilemma they face—to run or stay put. Bryan Collier's illustrations have a most appealing quality. The overall patchwork-like nature of the art work, coupled with the richness of the textures in the wallpaper, rugs, and fabrics, is striking. The blues and purples add a haunting dimension to thenighttime escape. Many pages of the text include drawings of figures who represent the guardians—Sarah and Isaac's ancestors who protect them. The wavy lines across their faces symbolize the river. The text and illustrations work well together in conveying the tension, the drama, and the bravery of a true episode in American history. 2000, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, $14.99. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Kem Knapp Sawyer — The Five Owls, March/April 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-This strikingly beautiful picture book relates the true story of John Parker, an African-American businessman who bought his own freedom and helped others to gain theirs via the Underground Railroad. Rappaport chronicles just one of many incidents in which Parker helped families escape from Kentucky, a slave state, across the river to freedom in Ohio. Repetitions highlighted in large type such as, "Run, run-Row, row-Wait, wait. Listen, listen" add drama and poetry to the moving narrative. The author's and illustrator's notes at the beginning and the historical note at the end strengthen the story's impact. The hyperrealistic collage-and-watercolor illustrations dominated by deep blues and browns also add drama; the ancestors and protectors are depicted in an ethereal manner with wavy lines across their faces representing the river. Endpapers feature reproductions of a map of the Ohio River. A distinguished and thought-provoking title.-Cynde Marcengill, Horry County Memorial Library, Surfside Beach, SC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Before the Civil War, John Parker, an ex-slave, successful businessman, and resident of the free state of Ohio crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky (a slave state) and risked his own life to free those still in bondage. Rappaport (Dirt on Their Skirts, p. 64, etc.) recounts one incident in the life of a brave conductor on the Underground Railroad in tones that echo a family tale being passed down. "Wait, wait. Listen. Listen. Only crickets and bullfrogs breaking the silence of the fall of night." Parker crosses the Ohio River under the cloak of darkness to rescue a captive family. He's almost caught but narrowly escapes. His breathlessness and fear are conveyed by the rhythm of the telling. "Run, Run. Back to the river. Back to his skiff. Row, row. Away . . ." Parker patiently waits through winter then returns to the plantation. The family he has come to rescue refuses his help. Since Parker's last visit, the master of the plantation has taken Sarah's baby away every night to ensure that the family won't try to escape. The incomparable illustrations by Collier (Uptown, p. 793) are a unique blend of torn and cut paper, photographs, and watercolor that have an almost mosaic quality. An off-kilter placement and a nighttime palette of purples, blues, and black emphasize the precariousness of Parker's situation. Guardian ancestors appear on several facing pages to watch over Parker's trials and give a physical manifestation to the readers' hopes and prayers. An illustrated book for older children such as the audience of Polacco's Pink and Say (1994), this volume is a model of excellence in picture-book making from the sepia-toned rivermapreproduction adorning the endpapers to the notable page layout. (author's note, bibliography, reading list) (Picture book. 7-10)

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Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
10.37(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.37(d)
330L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Doreen Rappaport has written numerous award-winning books for children, including: Freedom Ship and The School Is Not White (both illustrated by Curtis James); Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book; and John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon, also illustrated by Bryan Collier. She lives and writes in upstate New York.

Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Book Illustrator Award winner Bryan Collier has created art for many award winning children's books, including his master achievements, Rosa, Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom River, and John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon. Bryan lives in New York City with his wife and daughter.

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