|Runaway Slave: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Ann McGovern, illustrated by R.M. Powers.|
New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1965.
When I was in elementary school, our school participated in the Pizza Hut Book-It program. It was, and is, a popular program, and my hometown loved its Pizza Hut. (Fun Off-Topic Fact: Wichita is Pizza Hut's hometown, and at the time, was still headquartered here.) I made it my personal goal to read above and beyond the goal set by my teachers. In second grade, I was ripping through so many books that my teacher handed me this one. While the size of a small paperback picture book, it was really an early chapter book, wordier than the books I was reading for fun at the time. I had never heard of Harriet Tubman. I was just excited to have a "bigger kid" book to read. I took it with me to my grandma's that night, and we sat curled up in her gold rocking chair, reading together.
This book amazed me. Harriet Tubman amazed me. The book, published by Scholastic in 1965, told the story of Tubman's early life as a slave. She was sent away at age 7 to work for a woman who beat her every time her baby cried. She was hit in the head with an iron weight by an overseer when she was 13. She married a free man, John Tubman, who refused to help her run away to be free herself. Then of course, it delves into her own escape via the Underground Railroad, and her many trips back south as a conductor. We learn how she nursed the sick, black or white, and acted as a Union spy during the Civil War. She helped free slaves at large plantations. Finally, we learn how she settled in Auburn, NY, where the poor flocked to her. She planted a vegetable garden, selling the vegetables from door to door, in order to feed the poor at her door. People came to see her or wrote her letters from all over. She even turned down an invitation from Queen Victoria to visit England.
Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman's death. She was over 90 years old when she died.
I returned the copy of this book to my teacher. A few months ago, I found another copy at my grandmother's! It had a second cousin's name written in pencil inside the cover, and there was masking tape on the cover that said "25 cents." Grandma said she must have bought it at my great-aunt's garage sale.
I read the book to Big Sis last night. Her own jaw dropped multiple times as we read the story. I had to explain that the word "Negro," as written a few times in the book, was a common, respectful word for "black" or "African-American" at the time, but that we don't really use the word anymore. I told her it's fitting, having concluded Black History Month less than 2 weeks ago, and here in the middle of Women's History Month, to read about one of the great black women in American history, and on the anniversary of her death, no less.
If you want to check out a more recent picture book offering about Harriet Tubman, it's hard to go wrong with the award-winning Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006). It is a deep, poetic work, better suited to ages 8 and up. It focuses heavily on Tubman's religious faith.