The inspired pairing of this Newbery winner and these two-time Caldecott recipients has yielded a heartfelt and ultimately heartening chronicle of African Americans from the earliest days of slavery to the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in this country. Made up of succinct yet compelling profiles of celebrated and lesser-known individuals, Hamilton's narrative deftly peels back time's layers and lends an unusual immediacy to this critical chapter in American history. In brief, chronologically arranged entries that even reluctant readers will find easy to absorb, the author first offers accounts of slaves in the pre-Revolutionary War era, many of whom were taken from their homes in Africa and sold to slave traders. Included are descriptions of the appalling shipboard conditions during the ``middle passage'' from Africa to America, which a shocking 30% of the ill-treated passengers did not survive. Hamilton neatly condenses the tales of such notable freedom crusaders as Gabriel Prosser, the Virginia slave who was hanged for organizing a failed revolt in 1800; Tice Davids, allegedly the first slave to escape by traveling the ``underground road'' from Kentucky to Ohio; passionate abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass; and Harriet Tubman, the former slave who made more than 20 journeys back to the South to lead others to freedom. Hamilton's account takes note of the legislation passed by the federal government over the years--both protective of and damaging to the rights of African Americans. Her final reference, however, is optimistic, if somewhat oversimplified. She writes that after the Civil War, African Americans ``were able to find the best in life,'' including seeking education, finding jobs, owning land and living together as families. She concludes: ``They did all of these things almost as soon as the war was over. For 125 years they have continued to do so.'' Throughout the volume, the Dillons' dramatic, full-page, black-and-white art offers stunning portraits of the individuals profiled, poignantly conveying their anguish, determination and hope. A Children's BOMC selection. Ages 9-14. (Feb.) .