I Was Born a Slave: The Story of Harriet Jacobs

I Was Born a Slave: The Story of Harriet Jacobs

by Jennifer Fleischner, Melanie K. Reim

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Traces the life of a slave who suffered mistreatment from her master, spent years as a fugitive from slavery in North Carolina, and was eventually released to freedom with her children. See more details below

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Traces the life of a slave who suffered mistreatment from her master, spent years as a fugitive from slavery in North Carolina, and was eventually released to freedom with her children.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
This is a serious book, it looks at slavery square in the face without flinching. It is based on the true autobiography of Harriet Jacobs, a slave from birth, who endured years of terrible psychological cruelty from her white master. We can only look on with horrified fascination while the reality of slavery is laid out in matter-of-fact tones. Society's rules were not as simple as you might think; for example, some slaves had families which lived together almost as free people, holding jobs as carpenters or bakers and saving money. On the other hand, children were frequently separated from their parents and siblings, or sometimes left to other white masters in wills, as so much livestock. Harriet is parceled off this way as a little girl. Later, when she accepts the attentions of a white lawyer in town in order to escape the iron control of her master and becomes pregnant, her master's wife throws her out of the house, and she goes to live with her maternal grandmother, also a slave. Then she spends years as a fugitive. We ache for Harriet and her children, for the unbelievable circumstance of slavery. Yet her voice, clear even though interpreted as it is here, is strong and intelligent. This remarkable woman went on to freedom at last, spending the later years of her life helping poor freed African Americans, establishing a free school for children of slave refugees and writing for the abolitionist press. This is not a story for the early elementary years. For older middle school kids studying slavery as part of their humanities/social studies curriculum, it would be a powerful, moving testimony. With its black-and-white woodcut illustrations that give the feeling of a patchwork quilt,this woman's slave narrative is sure to stay with the reader for a long, long time. 1997, The Millbrook Press, Ages 10 to 14, $12.95. Reviewer: Nancy Partridge
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8Basing her account on Jacobs's autobiography written in 1861, Fleischner presents a moving and readable record of one woman's experiences. Born in Edenton, NC, around 1813, the subject was orphaned at a young age and was raised as a slave. Her grandmother, brother, and other relatives lived nearby. Although Jacobs had been taught to read and write and slept in the slaveholder's house, her life was one of misery and persecution. After the birth of her children, she resolved to obtain her freedom and hid in her grandmother's attic for seven years, watching her children from afar, before she was able to set out for a free state. After the War Between the States, Jacobs devoted her life to the welfare of African-American people living in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. This simplified biography will convey to modern children the mental, physical, and emotional turmoil that slaves were forced to endure. Mary Lyons's Letters from a Slave Girl (Scribners, 1992) contains more information and is more strident, but it is considered a piece of fiction. Reim's powerful, full-page woodcut prints illustrate incidents from Jacobs's life, but have limited child appeal. Nonetheless, this is a poignant introductory personal history.Debbie Feulner, Northwest Middle School, Greensboro, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Bold, black wood-block prints turn this memorable book about the life of a slave into a work of art. African-inspired, the detailed ebony designs printed on tan paper draw readers into Jacobs's life as a slave in North Carolina and her eventual escape (after hiding for seven years in her grandmother's tiny attic) to the North. Despite her suffering at the hands of her owners, Jacobs never became discouraged; she was taught to be independent by her "gentle mother and proud father." Fleischner (The Inuit, 1995, etc.), basing her work on Jacobs's 1861 autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, writes with great empathy for her subject, and doesn't avoid difficult topics, e.g., the sexual abuse of slave women by their owners is sensitively portrayed. Readers will be introduced to one of the paradoxes in the life of a slave: the desire for freedom. "In fleeing, [slaves] often left behind the only people they loved to go to a place where they knew no one and could trust no one." This is a well-written biography that also sheds light on one of America's darkest and most bitter eras.

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Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Inspiring People Series
Product dimensions:
8.27(w) x 10.26(h) x 0.58(d)
Age Range:
9 - 11 Years

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