The Barnes & Noble Review
There were many heroes of the Underground Railroad. From the tired and weary families who risked their lives to escape slavery to the instruments of freedom who helped them. One such amazing instrument was John Parker. As an ex-slave who had bought his own freedom, he knew of the pain and struggles his brethren were feeling. Parker made it his goal to help families escape their life of suffering into a free land. Freedom River tells the story of one such mission.
Kentucky was a slave state, but Ohio -- just across the Ohio River -- was free. Time and again, Parker sails across the river in the dark of night and brings slaves to Ohio. One night in November, Parker tries to free a family from the Shrofe plantation. But one man will not leave, fearful for his wife and child. Parker has to go back empty-handed, and the onset of winter prevents him from crossing the river for many weeks; in April, he tries again but is informed that Master Shrofe knows of the family's near escape and now keeps careful eye on all that they do -- even keeping their baby at the foot of his bed at night. Parker promises to help them. The next night he tells them to wait in the woods while he enters the master's house. Risking life and limb, he retrieves the infant, as Shrofe's angry shouts echo in the distance.
Told in an exquisite voice, this book highlights the heroes no one seldom hears about. The tone of the book is realistic and at times somber. The watercolor and collage illustrations, especially those evoking the blue of the night sky, adds depth and intensity to an already passionate story.
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.
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)