Book Review: Escape to Freedom

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books in This Series

• On the Eve of Revolution
• Servant to Abigail Adams
• Our Journey West
• Yankee Blue Or Rebel Gray?
• Cowboys on the Western Trail

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National Geographic's I Am American series continues with this book, by Barbara Brooks Simon, about the Underground Railroad. In this installment, Escape to Freedom, we follow young Callie Taylor and William Ballard, as they escape from the evils of slavery to the North and Canada.

Their journeys are not without peril and even coincide at one significant point. The book is a vivid portrait of the dangers that those trying to escape slavery faced at the hands not only of those who favored slavery but also those who opposed it. (Remember that the Fugitive Slave Laws made it a crime to harbor a slave, even in Northern territories.)

Both of our heroes are young people, which enables young readers to identify more personally with the struggles that Callie and William endure (including more than one brush with death). Overall, this books serves as a good reminder that the "packages" on the Underground Railroad were risking their very lives and their future happiness for a slim-to-none chance at escape, for the percentage of people who actually escaped slavery was quite low in comparison to the number of those who were caught and made even more miserable because of their attempts to escape.

The facts are interlaced with snippets of the heroes' version of events as they happened. Other books in this series have diary entries; this book doesn't use the term, but the purpose is the same.

Such famous names as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman appear, as do lesser-known people like John Rankin and John Parker. Also mentioned is the use of songs and other codes to impart information. "Follow the Drinking Gourd," for example, was a spiritual that also served as a directional tool: The Drinking Gourd was another name for the Big Dipper, which told runaway slaves to follow the North Star in going north to freedom.

Overall, this is a good introduction the Underground Railroad and the perils that its travelers faced and a worthy addition to an already great series.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White