From Slave Ship to Freedom Road

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Overview

Rod Brown and Julius Lester bring history to life in this profoundly moving exploration of the slave experience. From the Middle Passage to the auction block, from the whipping post to the fight for freedom, this book presents not just historical facts, but the raw emotions of the people who lived them. Inspired by Rod Brown's vivid paintings, Julius Lester has written a text that places each of us squarely inside the skin of both slave and slaveowner. It will capture the heart ...

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Overview

Rod Brown and Julius Lester bring history to life in this profoundly moving exploration of the slave experience. From the Middle Passage to the auction block, from the whipping post to the fight for freedom, this book presents not just historical facts, but the raw emotions of the people who lived them. Inspired by Rod Brown's vivid paintings, Julius Lester has written a text that places each of us squarely inside the skin of both slave and slaveowner. It will capture the heart of every reader, black or white, young or old.

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
A Booklist Editors' Choice Book

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Brown's 21 paintings provide a cohesive narrative line and have a stunning power of their own, but the confrontational tone of the text may usurp readers' attention," said PW of this volume, which traces the African-American journey from the Middle Passage to post-Civil War emancipation. Ages 8-up. (Dec.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Twenty-one of Brown's 36 paintings that were originally included in an exhibit entitled "From Slavery to Freedom" are showcased here and provide the inspiration for Lester's (To Be a Slave) strong and searing text. In double-page spreads with usually one, sometimes two paintings to each, the book traces the African American slave experience through images beginning with the Middle Passage and concluding with images of post-Civil War emancipation. Lester's words are most effective when they draw readers into the paintings themselves, as in one spread including Brown's Sheol, in which the author imagines the voices of three captives shackled together in the foreboding hold of a slave ship. In giving a voice to these three captives, Lester demands that readers give identity to the faceless human cargo: endless rows of heads and shoulders that alternate with rows of endless feet. He then breaks from the narrative to address the raw emotions of readers: "You have memories of those Africans too. Even if you're white. Especially if you're white." Alongside other paintings, the author tells stories of his own heritage ("My slave ancestors were house servants") and also includes three separate "Imagination Exercises" (one for whites, one for blacks and one for both whites and blacks: "What if your peers... deemed you honorable and good for beating someone?"). While the author raises questions that will likely provoke much impassioned discussion, these jarring shifts in narrative perspective interrupt any fluid reading of the book as the story of a journey. Brown's paintings provide the cohesive narrative line and have a stunning power of their own, but the confrontational tone of the text may usurp readers' attention. In the end, some readers may be left with questions about the artist and his inspiration (an artist's note is, unfortunately, absent), and most will likely require an adult standing by to help them grapple with the provocative issues raised here. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
When the writer Julius Lester viewed Rod Brown's "visceral response" to slavery in thirty-six paintings created over a period of seven years, he began to reexamine his feelings. Their book From Slave Ship to Freedom Road opens a dialogue with readers, starting with Lester's prologue which is "begging, pleading, imploring you not to be passive, but to invest soul and imagine yourself into the images." He doesn't really need this invocation. His words and Brown's paintings speak for themselves; they offer a view into the soul of the slavery. The raw power of the emotions in the paintings are increased by the honest and direct questioning in Lester's exercises of the imagination which examine shame, anger and understanding.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Although packaged like one, this is hardly a picture book for toddlers. Lester has written a series of meditations inspired by Rod Brown's historical painting cycle a seven-year project. The pictures are evocative recreations spanning the period from the Middle Passage through Emancipation: black bodies floating in the ocean, waiting for sharks; an angry mammy tending her white charges; images of whipping and lynching. It is strong stuff, and Lester's comments and "imagination exercises" are just as strong. The book can be an excellent learning tool, but needs to be overseen by wise teachers.
Children's Literature - Deborah Zink Roffino
"Heroism has many faces," the author writes. Readers are encouraged to imagine the fear, the evil, the shame of slavery, even the confusion of what it meant to be finally free. Written for children of all colors, this memorable combination of unforgettable text and mesmerizing paintings brings slavery out of history and into the heart.
School Library Journal
Gr 5 UpBrown's 22 brilliant and dramatic paintings of slaves and slavery in America are the attention-riveting basis for this picture-book history. Lester's carefully crafted words are the threads that weave about the pictures, inviting readers, whether black or white, to "invest soul" and to reach "an understanding in the heart" of what Africans endured over the 250 years from the first slave ships to Emancipation. The illustrations, bright with color contrasts and skillfully composed, were previously shown in gallery exhibits. They are effectively displayed against glossy white pages. The portraits of men and women show statuesque, cleanly sculptured bodies, strong in their attitudes, whether laboring, filled with silent anger, or gathered in prayer. Many of the scenes so artfully portrayed are those depicting suffering, from the dreaded Middle Passage to field labor, the slave market, attempts to escape, and the cost in whippings and lynchings. Finally, in the last paintings, the Civil War and the joyful road to freedom mark the end of this darkest period in American history. Lester's words guide readers into the pictures, offering background facts, creating dialogue, or constructing the thoughts of the pictured persons. At intervals, the text breaks to suggest an "Imagination Exercise," or to question readers on how they would act or feel. This is a powerful book, and it is an important one. It asks African Americans to understand the experience and honor the strength of the ancestors who survived these ordeals. It asks whites to understand the price exacted by past domination and cruelty on the fabric of society today.Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140566697
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Series: Pavilion Series
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 279,738
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.04 (w) x 9.01 (h) x 0.11 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2008

    Outstanding!!!!

    The art and dialogue in this beautiful but heartwrenching book are spectacular. If you read this and still have racism in your heart, you must not be a spiritual person.

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