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Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage

Written by Jerdine Nolen & illustrated by James E. Ransome
- Bookroo Rating
Goodreads Rating - 3.9 / 5.0
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Target Age
Book Type

What Does Bookroo Think of This Book

“A story of freedom beautifully weaved through hardship, hope, and courage.”

Like the beautiful pattern of a quilt, Millicent and John’s lives were influenced by the actions, beliefs, and examples of their family long ago, passed down, altered, and sewn together to create the quilt of their lives. Through mountains of struggles and the hardships of slavery, Freedom Bird is a story of the hope and courage resounding in the triumph of Millicent and John’s escape to freedom, told from a storyteller in a similar echo of the stories Samuel and Maggie, John and Millicent’s parents, told their children. When a bird is shot down and left for dead in the fields, the children lay up at night with worry for the bird until they venture out to see if they can help it. They hide the bird, caring for it even when John is taken away to another farm for months, until they follow the healed bird into the night, running after it and towards their freedom. This powerful story is laced with significant metaphors, producing an engaging narrative full of imagery, depth, and symbolism. The bold illustrations emotionally evoke the song of freedom, creating lasting images like that of Millicent with the outstretched wings of a bird. While a powerful story for even young readers, the allegorical aspects of this authentic tale will be most appreciated by adults.

What's This Book About

Publisher Summary

In this inspiring story in the tradition of American black folktales, an enslaved brother and sister are inspired by a majestic and mysterious bird to escape to freedom in this dramatic and unforgettable picture book.

There was nothing civil about that war. They should have called it what it was: a big, bad war.

Brother and sister Millicent and John are slaves on Simon Plenty’s plantation and have suffered one hurt and heartbreak after another. Their parents had told them old tales of how their ancestors had flown away to freedom just as free and easy as a bird. Millicent and John hold these stories in their hearts long after their parents are gone. “Maybe such a time will come for you,” their parents said. Then one day a mysterious bird appears in their lives. The bird transforms them and gives them the courage to set their plan into motion and escape to freedom.

What Kind of Book is Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage

Quotes from This Book

  • "You know, fate is a gleaming star that has its own way of pointing you out and shining down on you in the form of Providence."
  • "Oh, child, don’t you know that is how they made themselves free!"

Where Does This Book Excel


What Questions Should I Ask My Child

  • John and Millicent showed such bravery in their actions throughout the story. They took the bird to safety, stayed strong when they were separated, and chose to run for freedom. Why do you think they were so brave?

  • The beginning line talks about a pattern in actions weaved together down through posterity, like a quilt. Samuel and Maggie had talked with their children about birds and freedom, which influenced Millicent and John’s story. What patterns are in your family history that have influenced your life?

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Book Lists That Include Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage

Book Topics › fairy tales and folklore
Children's Books About Fairy Tales And Folklore
Book Topics › multigenerational
Children's Books About Multigenerational
Book Topics › United States
Children's Books About United States
Book Topics › fiction
Children's Books About Fiction
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Who Wrote Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage

Jerdine Nolen

Jerdine Nolen is the beloved author of many award-winning books, including Big Jabe; Thunder Rose, a Coretta Scott King Illlustrator Honor Book; and Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, all illustrated by Kadir Nelson. She is also the author of Eliza’s Freedom Road, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, which was an ALA/YALSA Best Fiction Nominee for Young Adults; Raising Dragons, illustrated by Elise Primavera, which received the Christopher Award; and Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm, illustrated by Mark Buehner, which was made into a movie by the same name. Her other books include Calico Girl, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and Irene’s Wish, illustrated by A.G. Ford, which Kirkus Reviews called “delightful and memorable” in a starred review. Ms. Nolen is an educator and lives in Ellicott City, Maryland.

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Who Illustrated Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage

James E. Ransome

James E. Ransome’s highly acclaimed illustrations for Before She Was Harriett received the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. His other award-winning titles include Coretta Scott King Honor Book Uncle Jed’s Barbershop; Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; and Let My People Go, winner of the NAACP Image Award. He frequently collaborates with his wife, author Lesa Cline-Ransome. Some of their titles include Game Changers: The Story of Venus Serena Williams, which received four starred reviews; My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey; and Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. Mr. Ransome teaches illustration at Pratt Institute and lives in upstate New York with his family. Visit James at

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What Has Jerdine Nolen Said About This Book

Nothing yet! 🤷 You should let Jerdine know that you want more details about Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage!

What Has James E. Ransome Said About This Book

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Jerdine Nolen's Book Dedication

For Virginia Hamilton and the dream when it is set free

James E. Ransome's Book Dedication

For my uncle and aunt, Joe and Shirley Ransome

What Do Critics Say About This Book

  • Publishers Weekly

    “Vibrant writing and magical realism lift this story to one of triumph.”

    Read full review >>
  • Kirkus Reviews

    “The lengthy text, addressed directly to child listeners, frames the tale with historical, cultural, and mythical context that will leave some younger children wondering but nevertheless will hold them spellbound. Ransome’s paintings create memorable scenes that evoke the indomitable human spirit to which the book is a tribute. Powerful storytelling and immersive art.”

    Read full review >>

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Book Details

Publication Date:
January 14, 2020
Text Details:
The text for this book was set in Chaparral Pro.

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