Sunday, February 3, 2008

"MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom"

Title: MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children, 2006
Genre: Picture Book, Historical Fiction, Multicultural
Grade Level: 3-5
2006 Caldecott Honor Book
2006 Coretta Scott King Award Winner

Summary: This book tells the heroic journey of Harriet Tubman, a slave in the south. The story begins as Harriet prays to the Lord for help as she wants to escape to the free north. God speaks to Harriet, and protects her as she travels on the Underground Railroad to freedom. Once she is there, she feels the need to save her family and other slaves down south. She again turns to God, who helps her to learn the way of the Underground Railroad. She then makes several trips to the south and helps her people to escape, just as Moses helped the children of Israel.

Response: Reading this story, and looking at the absolutely gorgeous illustrations took my breath away. Each page contained kept me mesmerized, and I felt like I really got to see the relationship Harriet had with the Lord. The story alone is beautiful, told just like a free-verse poem. There are different fonts that are used in the three different perspectives of the book. The first is a normal font that is used by the omniscient narrator. The second is an italicized font that is used by Harriet. The words of God are written in large capital letters, usually in a different color. These words change, sometimes wrapping themselves around Harriet, or taking the shape of the wind, as she continues on her journey to freedom. The text alone is enough to keep a reader interested; however, the illustrations take this book to another level. Each page pulls a vivid scene from Harriet's journey. Many show her at night, and the colors are so dark that it is almost hard to make out what is going on. This adds to the intensity of the story, as Harriet is trying to escape from dogs and slave hunters, to find her freedom. She had to travel at night, and the pictures show how she did this. You feel as though this is what she looked like, and this how her journey went as you see the pictures. She is humanized and you can relate to the fear and uncertainty she feels traveling alone in the dark. The illustrations are double-page spreads, and the text fits on them perfectly. The pictures are a direct representation of the text. The medium used in the pictures is oil painting. The colors are bold, rich, and many of them are dark. Slavery is a grim issue, and the illustrations depict it accurately. My favorite picture is towards the end of the book. It is simply a picture of Harriet's face, but it is inspiring. You can see every line and crease in her face. The background is a beautiful bright blue, which reminds of the bright future she has in freedom, and the great work she is doing helping others to escape. It is one of the few pictures that does not have a dark background because she is finally free and able to come out during the day. Her face is that of sheer determination as the text reads, "I am ready, Lord. Lead me." You see Harriet, not as a runaway slave, but as a hero to her people. Her courage and determination is illustrated on every page. It really puts life into perspective, as you realize that this woman knew what it meant to sacrifice her life for others. I am so grateful for books like this because it allows me to feel more grateful for the life I have been blessed with. The story is inspirational and the illustrations are breathtaking, certainly the reasons why this book received its great honors.

Teaching Ideas: This book is a great way to introduce the topic of slavery. It incorporates one of the most famous slaves, Ms. Tubman, as well as the Underground Railroad. The text uses great gospel songs that were used to inspire those enslaved to seek freedom in the north. I remember reading a novel about Harriet Tubman, and that too can still be done. I think that students will learn a lot about slavery in this short, simple picture book, and it will lead to great discussion and learning.

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