cover image Freedom Bird

Freedom Bird

Jerdine Nolen, illus. by James E. Ransome. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-689-87167-2

The intimate, compelling voice that Nolen (Calico Girl) creates for this story about two enslaved children begins matter-of-factly—“Now you know even before I tell you there was nothing civil about that war”—and stays strong throughout. Heartbreak strikes John and Millicent early as their parents, Samuel and Maggie, are sold—but not before they have planted in their children the vision of freedom, which they tie to images of birds in flight: “Because there is beauty and music in the flight of birds—listen for the song. It is a song for the soul.” Ransome (The Bell Rang) paints the children toiling in vast tobacco fields during the day. An overseer knocks a majestic black bird out of the sky with his whip, the children retrieve it under a full moon, and though John is taken to another plantation for months, Millicent is able to watch it heal: “Its feathers, black as jet, seemed to glow like burning coals.” When John returns, fate and the bird give the children a chance at freedom, an escape to the “wide-open spaces of the West” that takes on legendary dimensions. Vibrant writing and magical realism lift this story to one of triumph. Ages 5–9. [em](Jan.) [/em]