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.
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?
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.
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 JamesRansome.com.
For Virginia Hamilton and the dream when it is set free
For my uncle and aunt, Joe and Shirley Ransome
“Vibrant writing and magical realism lift this story to one of triumph.”
“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.”