Freedom's a-Callin Me


Award-winning poet Ntozake Shange and artist Rod Brown reimagine the journeys of the brave men and women who made their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Fleeing on the Underground Railroad meant walking long distances; swimming across streams; hiding in abandoned shanties, swamps, and ditches, always on the run from slave trackers...

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Award-winning poet Ntozake Shange and artist Rod Brown reimagine the journeys of the brave men and women who made their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Fleeing on the Underground Railroad meant walking long distances; swimming across streams; hiding in abandoned shanties, swamps, and ditches, always on the run from slave trackers and their dogs.

ah might get hungry ah may get tired good Lawd /
ah may be free

The Underground Railroad operated on secrecy and trust. But who could be trusted?

There were free black and white men and women helping, risking their lives, too. Because freedom was worth any risk. Celebrated collaborators Ntozake Shange and Rod Brown pay tribute to the Underground Railroad, a universal story about the human need to be free.

ah am a livin bein’ & ah got to be free

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shange and Brown’s (We Troubled the Waters) book of poems about an escaping slave won’t be easy for some readers to get through. Whipping, pursuit by bloodhounds (“dogs’ll tear your/ muscle right off the bone”), and other horrors haunt the slave and his fellow escapees. Shange uses her formidable gifts to call up the voices of the slave and those he encounters; his words are raw and agonized in some places (“ah jus’ can’t take it no more,” he says, “ah am not some animal to be worked from dawn to dusk/ livin on the entrails of hogs & such”) and unbearably poignant in others (“but he’s travelin alone,” he protests to another escapee about a man they see across the swamp at night, “can’t we help him a little bit”). The shadowed figures in Brown’s full-bleed spreads are often barely perceptible in the dark. In one striking painting, the slave hides below the floorboards as a dance is held above him; thin lines of golden light fall over his concealed body. When the journey ends, the calm of freedom seems unbelievable. A potent and memorable work. Ages 8–12. Agent: Russell & Volkening. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
The story of slavery and the almost unbearable life of those who worked in the cotton fields are the focus of this poetic account. The message reflects the burning desire of many enslaved Africans to escape north to freedom where they would be treated as human beings. The preparations required stealth, and the actual escape required strength and great courage. Those who took the risk knew that they could be hunted down by trackers using ferocious dogs, and once caught, be beaten and then sent back to their owners. They could also face death in the swamps, either accidently or by getting caught in a trap laid by the slave hunters. But those who were undeterred, fought the odds, and did whatever it took to make the try for a better life. Along the way there were white people who also believed slavery was wrong and risked their lives to help many succeed in escaping. This story is told in poetic form using the language of the slaves which makes it even more compelling. You have the feeling that you are inside the mind of the individuals and that you share their hopes and fears. The paintings vary in size from a full page to ? of a spread to a full spread. They too tell the story and often are dark in color until the end where the slaves are shown as they finally escape in a wagon and while others struggle against the cold and snow to walk to freedom in Michigan. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—The team who created We Troubled the Waters (HarperCollins, 2009) now presents a series of poems and paintings that express the hope and frustration of enslaved people trying to navigate the Underground Railroad. Using dialect to convey a Southern cadence, Shange's poems communicate powerful emotions. Fear, resolve, anger, and hope all show up at various times. The book depicts a variety of experiences, from a slave who wants to escape, to a loved one who tries to convince him to stay; a man who changes his mind midway, to others who survive the journey. Along the way, the escapees meet white people who hurt or kill as well as those who help in large and small ways. These poems are a cry from the heart. They express the spirit that compelled people to take desperate measures to find freedom, people who viewed death as preferable to bondage. The expressive, impressionistic paintings capture attention with their bold strokes and vivid coloring. Generally indistinct faces and dramatically posed bodies command the eye. A few graphic images make this book best suited to upper elementary or older readers. This is an excellent resource to use with fictional titles such as Patricia Polacco's January's Sparrow (Philomel, 2009) or Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007).—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Kirkus Reviews
One slave is the poetic voice for those who toil on a cotton plantation and look to the North Star, following the Underground Railroad to freedom. Shange wrote the poems in response to Brown's paintings and provides a sound stage for not only the many men and women who sought freedom but also those who were fearful of leaving. The dramatic oil paintings open in the stark white of the cotton fields. In the following tableaux, slaves are whipped, run through swamps, barely ahead of trackers and their dogs, and receive help from white abolitionists and Sojourner Truth. One powerful double-page spread shows a runaway hiding under floor boards, with slivers of light coming through. The end of the road finally comes in Michigan, where white snow on ground and trees serves as a beautiful counterpoint to the opening scene. Painter and poet previously collaborated on We Troubled the Waters (2009), and in this volume they have created a focused narrative that is troubling, violent and soul-stirring. In the title poem, the man says "ah may get tired / good Lawd / ah may may be free." Inspirational pairings of art and verse to read and recite in tribute to those who walked that perilous road. (Picture book/poetry. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061337413
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/3/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 665,194
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange is a celebrated poet and author of many novels and plays, including the Obie Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which was made into a feature film. Ms. Shange is also the author of several children’s books, including the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Ellington Was Not a Street, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Rod Brown is a fine artist and the illustrator of We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange, and From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. His artwork has been displayed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and on the Nickelodeon program Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, among other places. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Rod lives with his wife in a suburb of Washington, DC.

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