Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
This picture book tells the story of Frederick Bailey, who would grow up to become the great Frederick Douglass. His biography is also the story of the power of the written word and the ability to read. Born a slave, Frederick was separated from his mother early in life and sent to live with his Grandmamma. His mother would walk 12 miles at night to see him while he slept. At age 8, Frederick was sent to work for another master in Baltimore. It was there that he first learned his letters, until his mistress was told to stop teaching him as it would make him unfit to be a slave. Daring white children to write better than him, Frederick continued to learn to read. Returned to his home, Frederick taught the other slaves to read too, eventually writing his own way free from slavery.
A glimpse at an amazing mind and leader, this book takes us back to his childhood. It is a testament to the damage and horrors of slavery, as readers see Frederick taken away from one person after another in his life. It is also a celebration of the human spirit and the power of writing to change a life. Cline-Ransome’s writing is exemplary. She tells the story with wonderful detail, rich with meaning, and plenty of depth. The book has more words than most picture books, but the story being told needs those words to shine best.
The illustrations are also rich. There is such an aching feel to the image of the slave mother visiting Frederick that it is a portrait in heartbreak. Other illustrations capture emotions beautifully as well. The soaring nature of Frederick hidden up high and reading a newspaper rises against a purple-blue sky.
The author and illustrator have created a wonderfully cohesive work with soaring prose and powerful illustrations. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.