I Want to Be Free

( 1 )

Overview

Before I die, I want to be free. But the Big Man says, 'You belong to me.'

A runaway slave has broken the chains that bound him, but as he sets out for the land of the free, he still carries the weight of an iron ring around his ankle. As long as it remains, and as long as the Big Man hunts him, he'll never truly be free. But rescuing an orphaned slave child from certain capture gives him the strength to keep moving on, and miraculously, the ...

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Overview

Before I die, I want to be free. But the Big Man says, 'You belong to me.'

A runaway slave has broken the chains that bound him, but as he sets out for the land of the free, he still carries the weight of an iron ring around his ankle. As long as it remains, and as long as the Big Man hunts him, he'll never truly be free. But rescuing an orphaned slave child from certain capture gives him the strength to keep moving on, and miraculously, the child's love and gratitude are all that is needed to destroy the shackle once and for all.

This moving, poetic text is based on a story from the sacred literature of Buddha.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Transposing a Buddhist story he encountered in Rudyard Kipling's Kim , Slate (the Miss Bindergarten series) moves the setting to the antebellum South and casts as speaker an escaping slave who rescues an orphaned, ill slave child. Forced into rhymed couplets, the language strains between the demands of the rhythm and dialect-when the slave reaches "the camp of gone-free men," they advise him to abandon a child he hears "cryin,'" saying, "Let the Big Man come. Take him back./ He has the farm. Food we lack." For this scene, Lewis (Coming on Home Soon ) contributes extraordinarily accomplished watercolors: the scrim of night lets through the escaped men's white shirts, a hint of their profiles, the sick child's face. A religious denouement is portentous without being satisfying. Safely in "the Land of the Free," the child touches the shackle on the speaker's leg that no one else has been able to remove, and "It fell away." In the most sentimental of his paintings, Lewis (Coming on Home Soon ) pictures a single tear on the man's face: "How, dear child, did you set me free?"-"I'm from the Lord. You cared for me." Ages 6-8. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal

K-Gr 4

A young escaped slave on the run is the focal point of this book loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's Kim . A powerful refrain is heard throughout this story and becomes a mantra for the protagonist, who dreams only of freedom: "Before I die, I want to be free. But the Big Man says, 'You belong to me.'" After he is recaptured, a ball and chain is attached to his ankle, making it crystal clear that he is owned by another. He manages to break the chain and leave the ball behind, but the shackle itself remains firmly in place on his ankle. Along his escape route he stops to care for an orphaned child and, in the end, it is this child who frees him from the shackle. The verse, in rhyming couplets, is not as strong as the idea it is attempting to convey. Rather than a lyrical song, the text comes across as choppy and somewhat pedestrian. In contrast, Lewis's beautiful watercolors lift this book to the level it was meant to achieve. The palette is dark as the young slave travels mostly through the night toward freedom, and the colors brighten as the child frees him from his bonds and his world opens up. This is another book to add to the corpus of Underground Railroad stories.-Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Kirkus Reviews
"Before I die, I want to be free. / But the Big Man says, ‘You belong to me.' " A young slave in the South escapes only to be tracked down and shackled, but he manages to break free again. The ring of the shackles remains on his ankle as he heads north, picking up along the way a helpless black child, whom he cares for. Once in the "land of the free," the boy touches the ring, which falls away: " ‘How, dear child, did you set me free?' / 'I'm from the Lord. You cared for me.' " Slate's story, told in terse, rhyming couplets, takes a Buddhist Jataka tale, moves it to America and invests it with Christian overtones-a dubious cultural appropriation. Award-winning artist Lewis's watercolors are characteristically beautiful in composition, but the colors sometimes reproduce murkily; it's difficult to discern the race of the ominous image of the Big Man on the cover. Not up to either contributor's standards, but a passable selection where slave tales or Christian inspirational tales are needed. (Picture book. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399243424
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/8/2009
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 700,193
  • Age range: 6 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Slate, a native West Virginian, has always loved to paint and write. "I majored in journalism at the University of Washington in Seattle, worked as a reporter on The Seattle Times, was an editor for Foreign Broadcast Information Service (Washington, D.C., California, and Tokyo), then took a degree in fine arts at Yale, although I never illustrated my own books. My painting took a direction that was at odds with the fine art of illustration.

"My ideas come from everywhere: a childhood drawing I did of a porcupine, a silly song I once sang to a godchild, and my teacher-niece and pupil-grand nephew getting ready for kindergarten, all kicked off an idea for a book. Now I am writing novels, and it's the same what-if approach, although the first one came out of my West Virginia boyhood. It's called Crossing the Trestle, and the young narrator faces an obstacle I did as a child."

Mr. Slate is Professor of Art Emeritus at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he taught for 30 years. He now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Patty. A Marine Air Corps veteran, he and his wife have set foot on all seven continents and traveled in 39 countries. They have lived in both Japan and Italy.

"Snacking is my big vice, especially chocolate and oatmeal raisin cookies. To keep my weight down, I take tai-chi courses with a world grand master and play water volley ball."

Awards: National Bookseller's and New York Public Library's annual lists, Library of Congress citation, Ohio and Kansas State Reading Circle lists, Colorado and Wyoming School Children's 1998 Best Book finalist, 1998 Americas Commended list, Publisher's Weekly best seller list (twice), Delaware's l997 Blue Hen Award, Ohioana Library Association's Award for distinguised service in the field of children's literature.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    A must read! I read this to my 5 year old. I was a bit concern

    A must read! I read this to my 5 year old. I was a bit concerned it would be too heavy for him. But the language is repetitive and age appropriate. The illustrations capture the tone perfectly. And the theme of hope, perseverance and love are beautifully shared in this story. It is a wonderful tool to introduce to children one of America's most shameful event--slavery.

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