Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Fire of Courage Burned Within

From the time they are a child their path is clear.  Each choice they make regardless of their circumstances is intended to keep them heading in the same direction.  For these people the journey is in service of others.  For these people help is given, without question, for the betterment of others; especially those lacking the same rights as others.

She lived for nearly a century.  Before She Was Harriet (Holiday House, November 7, 2017) written by Lesa Cline-Ransome with illustrations by James E. Ransome is a brilliant collaboration.  It is an eloquent portrait of a champion for American people. 

Here she sits
an old woman
tired and worn
her legs stiff
her back achy

In the years before this day when she is seated waiting, this woman, Harriet Tubman achieved remarkable triumphs for many people.  She changed lives, hundreds of lives.  As a suffragist she fought for the rights of women.  Her efforts were realized seven years after her death when women acquired the right to vote.

Prior to this time she led Union troops on a successful raid enabling more than seven hundred slaves to obtain their freedom.  On this night in June 1863 history was made on and along the Combahee River.  Her skill in navigating from the south to the north made her invaluable in obtaining information for the Union army as a spy during the Civil War.  Her knowledge of healing and natural remedies assisted her in her role as a nurse for soldiers.

In reading of Harriet bringing her own parents to freedom, escaping their master from the south into Canada, you know it was an event like no other.  The shared joy between the trio must have been immeasurable.  This is why they called her Moses.  She led one successful trip after another on the Underground Railroad.  

Known as Minty she worked as a slave in Maryland and also for other owners toiling in the fields.  She knew the sting of the lash.  As a child her given name was Araminta.  It was her father who taught her to survive in the woods and look to the constellations in the night sky for guidance. She was not born in freedom but every step she took was toward it.  

It is a poem.  It is a life story.  Milestones in this extraordinary woman's life are woven into a narrative of exquisite, descriptive respect by author Lesa Cline-Ransome.

As each layer builds backward from Harriet as an old woman we are acquainted with her many accomplishments beginning with her childhood.  Her strength and bravery inspire us all.  Lesa Cline-Ransome brings us full circle back to the elder Harriet.  The use of no punctuation means, to me, Harriet and the effects of her presence will always be with us.  Here is a passage.

Before she was an old woman
she was a suffragist
a voice for women
who had none
in marriages
in courts
in voting booths
before her voice became 
soft and raspy
it was loud
and angry
rising above injustice

Upon opening, unfolding, the matching dust jacket and book case first as a young girl on the right, looking to the stars, Araminta is learning.  These nocturnal pinpricks of light are a map in which she will be able to lead hundreds to new lives, free lives.  To the left, within a circle like the moon on the right, we see an older Harriet crossing a stream with slaves, leading them to safety.  Above the image are the words:

Suffragist * General * Union Spy
Nurse * Moses * Minty

Beneath the illustration is her name, Harriet Tubman.

The opening and closing endpapers are in the same shade of yellow as the title text and thin glowing line around the moon and the image on the back of the jacket and case.  James E. Ransome begins his visual storytelling with a train crossing a landscape and then with an image spanning two pages for the title.  Harriet Tubman is waiting on a bench outside a train depot.  Others are gathered either to board the train or bid travelers goodbye.

Each page turn is a two-page picture.  Regardless of the perspective our eyes are immediately drawn to Harriet.  James E. Ransome has masterfully captured her pure spirit of courage and compassion.  She was only five feet tall but her personality of perseverance is present in each of her capacities.  The facial expressions on Harriet are stunning.

One of my many favorite pictures is a night scene.  Harriet is kneeing on a hill overlooking a small community below her.  Trees and small buildings are visible.  Smoke rises from chimneys.  A few lights are glowing.  Her head is bowed in prayer beneath a full moon and a scattering of stars. Her body takes up nearly all of the left side.

The reverence author Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrator James E. Ransome feel for Harriet Tubman is clearly evident in the flawless blend of their beautiful words and art.  Every collection personal and professional needs a copy of Before She Was Harriet.  It is a moving read aloud.

To learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a blog post about this title.  You will want to read it.  At the publisher's website is a four page educator's guide.  At author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, you can view an interior image and read her post at Kirkus.

UPDATE:  Please follow this link to KidLit TV to hear Lesa Cline-Ransome read her book aloud while viewing her husband's remarkable illustrations.  This title is a 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers this week participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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