Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Triumphs Of Two

Throughout history single names rise to the top for their impact on the course of events.  These individuals become beacons for others with like beliefs.  They are colleagues in a common cause.

In 1904 a women's suffrage convention is held in Rochester, New York.  In attendance is Harriet Tubman.  Susan B. Anthony is to be a speaker.  In a surprise move, but surely not to her, Susan B. Anthony introduces Harriet Tubman inviting her to speak.  Chasing Freedom:  The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman And Susan B. Anthony Inspired By Historical Facts (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., January 6, 2015), written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Michele Wood, imagines a conversation between these two legendary women prior to the start of the convention.

That November afternoon, there was a rap at Susan's front door.  Susan finished lacing up her shoes, then crossed the parlor in the staccato rhythm of one who's got places to go.  Were it not for an abundance of white hair, you'd never know how many years she'd been on this earth, how many lives she'd lived.  But there was one who could count them, one whose stories were river deep.
Susan reached the door, swung it wide, and smiled.
"Harriet!" ...

Following this opening, introductory conversation twenty more single entries are brimming with memories as these larger-than-life figures recount their life accomplishments and adventures.  They each reveal the journeys taken to this particular year.  We learn vital information about significant points in history which defined their lives.

Frustrated and angered with the unequal treatment of females employed as teachers, Susan leaves the profession in 1849 to champion women's rights.  It is like the voice of the Lord speaks to Harriet urging her to help others to freedom once she is free.  She first wants to help her niece before she is sold again.

Due to the attendance of abolitionists at Sunday family dinners, Susan is well aware of the struggles to free the slaves.  She is initially drawn to free women from the evils bestowed upon them by men, husbands, who drink too much alcohol.  Sad in the depths of her soul, Harriet learns her husband has taken a new wife, instead she returns North with eleven others seeking freedom.

Encouragement from a family known for taking a stand Susan begins speaking out in favor of temperance.  Knowing she too has been called into service by the Almighty, Harriet makes one journey after another from Philadelphia to Maryland saving as many as she can, praying when danger is near.  Susan recalls hearing how an angel is guarding Harriet.

Susan adds her voice to the Teachers' Convention for more than ten years causing a major commotion at first.  Although she does not count herself as a public speaker, Harriet spins stories of her rescues remembering every single moment.  These stories prompt others to join her Underground Railroad movement especially with monetary support.

In remembering many trips, Harriet thinks back on a particularly fearful encounter with slave dealers.  The work for which she is most remembered moves to the forefront in the winter of 1854 to 1855 for Susan.  Bitter cold and drifts double her height do not deter this woman in seeking the vote.  Both women have stories tying them to staunch abolitionist John Brown and his fall at Harper's Ferry.

By the year 1860 Harriet Tubman has a bounty on her head.  Bowing to the pleas of family she completes one final trip bringing a couple to Canada.  Often ridiculed for not being married and being childless, Susan nevertheless makes great strides for women in 1860.  In the following year both women are as committed as ever to fight for the slaves' freedom against tremendous odds and neither will be stopped.

A bitter battle during the war with Harriet serving as a nurse, cook and spy brings to light a little known fact.  Susan calls to mind the battles being fought at home for emancipation; a horrible time with wild conditions in the city.  At the close of their visit both know more work is to be done for those you cannot do it themselves.  These women do not rest.

Time after time in the reading of these twenty-one lyrical compositions, readers will find themselves stopping to enjoy the use of language by Nikki Grimes.  Images created by her words bring you into the emotional mood of those recalled moments.  The final words on one page connect to the first words on the next page, flowing flawlessly.  By weaving dialogue and narrative together she fashions a tapestry of living history for us.  By adding intimate details of them drinking tea, the chill in the room and the building of a fire, we are there with them, listening.  Here are some more sample passages.

"I joined the Daughters of Temperance, if not to end all imbibing of strong drink, then at least to win protection for the women and children it harmed."
"Lord knows, it's our hearts that drive us!" said Harriet.

Harriet closed her eyes for a moment.  When she opened them again, her focus seemed as locked in the past as the story she was telling, but then she blinked a few times and she was back.  

"To change things," said Harriet.
"Yes," said Susan, "and to make them better."
"Looks like the Lord made us both servants," said Harriet.  "We just had different assignments."

From the moment you unfold the matching dust jacket and book case you step back in time.  The portraits of both women at different ages framing the title are seen again inside the book.  On the back, in the same golden yellow as the line framing the title on the front, serving as a background, the title words are enlarged and repeated in rows in a shiny white.

Smaller depictions of the women in rows are patterned on the opening and closing endpapers.  As part of a two-page title page, the women are portrayed facing one another as they would have been in 1904.  Single page paintings rendered in acrylic and oil by illustrator Michele Wood are featured opposite each essay.  Wood includes delicate scroll work along the top and bottom of each two pages.  Even numbered pages are noted on the left at the bottom in a background taken from the following image.

Each element of these paintings is pieced together like fabric on a quilt; like a treasured family heirloom.  It's the faces of these two women and those people in their lives which draw us into the pictures.  Many of them are charged with emotion.

One of my two favorite illustrations is of Susan B. Anthony during the winter of 1854-1855 when she is soliciting signatures for petitions for women's suffrage.  The look of resolve on her face as she faces us standing in the snowy weather ignites courage.  The visual of Harriet holding a solider (Frederick Douglas's son, Lewis) is moving.  Another wounded man is resting nearby.   Although the three are on grass, behind them is a quilt with important pieces in it.

Chasing Freedom:  The Life Journeys Of Harriet Tubman And Susan B. Anthony Inspired By Historical Facts written by Nikki Grimes with illustrations by Michele Wood is an accounting which will reach into your soul.  These are the kind of stories which make historical names real people, bringing their lives into the here and now.  Their deeds and dedication will inspire many for years to come.  Extensive Biographies, Additional Notes, Bibliography and Author's Note complete the title.

To explore more about Nikki Grimes and Michele Wood and their other work please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  For a unit of study on Nikki Grimes, including this title, follow this link.

I am using this book for my selection for this week's 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Although the hours of conversation between the two women are fictional, they are heavily based upon facts gathered by the author.  I encourage everyone to read this and make it a part of their personal and professional book collections.

No comments:

Post a Comment