Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Lesa Cline Ransome, illus. by James E. Ransome. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5903-8
Drawing from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the Ransomes (Before There Was Mozart) create a powerful biographical account of the anti-slavery crusader, writer, and orator’s early life. Writing from Douglass’s first-person perspective, Lesa Cline Ransome plainly relays the inhuman treatment of plantation slaves—“even the animals were rested in the heat of the afternoon sun, and they were never whipped bloody for being too tired or too sick or too slow”—and expresses how learning to read was a catalyst for Douglass’s liberation. “I bought my first newspaper and learned new words—liberty, justice, and freedom.... These were the words my master would never want me to see.” Ransome’s acrylic and oil paintings combine striking naturalism with a palette of inky greens and blues; after Douglass uses his writing skills to forge a letter from his master releasing him, a final spread shows him looking boldly toward the North Star. Though an author’s note explains that Douglass did not successfully escape that night (but did three years later), the story concludes with a sense of hope and determination. Ages 5–9. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 01/03/2012
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