Hammer and fire. The Underground Railroad. Freedom’s Song
Voices from the Underground Railroad
by Kay Winters ill by Larry Day
Young Jeb knows that the time has come. He and his sister Mattie must keep the promise that they made to their mother and depart from Maryland, leaving the only life they know and traveling north in search of freedom. Jeb, hired as a blacksmith, and Mattie, a house slave, vow to remain together as they plot their escape from an impending slave auction. Under cover of night the pair find sanctuary in safe houses and eventually board a steamship headed for New Bedford, where their older brother Ben resides.
Voices from the Underground Railroad is told through alternating voices of: Jeb, Mattie, conductors who offer protection, slave catchers, and an irate master and his wife. Each unique narrative is a personal perspective. The compelling points of view would make an excellent Readers Theater.
Kay Winters includes a wealth of additional information: end papers featuring a map of the children's route from Maryland to Massachusetts, Historical Notes, Author's Note, and References.
Art created by Larry Day brings emotions to the forefront with expressive faces. Uncertainty, fear, smoldering hostility, rage, and ultimately joy illuminate the text. I was particularly drawn to images of the two siblings. Mattie reaches out to Jeb and he takes her hands, guiding her into a boat and later assisting her in boarding a train. I love these reminders of mutual trust.
The charming little string of ducks, waddling across the acknowledgement page echo the theme of a family journey. Nice touch Mr. Day!
Elizabeth Van Steenwyk ill by Anna Rich
Elizabeth Van Steenwyk imagines a skillful blacksmith, using his hammer to tap out coded messages for enslaved people waiting and hoping for the opportunity to escape a life of servitude. Those attempting to flee from the evils of slavery are determined to head for freedom. Their flight is aided by brave people of conscience known as conductors. Because assisting escaped slaves is illegal, communicating and helping slaves with travel and shelter was of necessity a carefully guarded secret. Hence the need for coded messages. Blacksmith's Song rings with a fierce determination.
Most enslaved people were denied a formal education. None-the-less, they brilliantly devised their own methods of communication. Code words, astronomy, visual symbols, and music were some of the means of expression used to guide travelers on the treacherous road to freedom. Code words and a star constellation are featured in Follow the Drinking Gourd.