Freedom Over Me

Ashley Bryan. Atheneum/Dlouhy, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5690-6
Using a document from 1828 that lists the value of a U.S. landowner’s 11 slaves, Bryan (Sail Away) creates distinct personalities and voices for each, painting their portraits and imagining their dreams. He starts with the wife of the slave owner, who felt her husband was good to their slaves (“He never hired an overseer”). But it’s quickly clear that “good” slave ownership is an oxymoron: “I work hard—all profit to the estate,” their cook Peggy observes. Bryan shows that the enslaved had secret lives of their own: “Years ago blacksmith Bacus and I/ ‘jumped the broom’—/ the slave custom for marriage. No legal form for slaves.” They cherish their traditions, call each other by their African names (“I am Bisa, ‘Greatly Loved’ ”), dream of escape, and long for freedom. His portraits show the men, women, and children gazing out at readers, the contours of their faces traced as if carved from wood, while strong rhythmic outlines mimic stained glass, echoing the sense of sacred memory. There are few first-person accounts of slaves, and these imagined words will strike a chord with even the youngest readers. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/04/2016
Release date: 09/13/2016
Genre: Children's
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