Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995. Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile: 1030L .
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 3.0 points) .
This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.
In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery. Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife. They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).
However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves. One day, William came up with an idea. Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white. They had money from William’s extra work. Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.
It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known. We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more. The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.
This book gives many details about their lives before and after the escape, including their second escape to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. It goes even further to cover their life there (where all their children were born) and their eventual move back to America. Two Tickets answered all of my questions about the Crafts and their entire lives.
Slavery is very realistically covered. This book doesn’t go into gory details but makes it clear that while being a house slave or skilled laborer might have been physically easier than field labor, the condition of slavery was still intolerable. William’s separation from his family and Ellen’s treatment by some white members of her family are shown in heart-wrenching detail.
By giving the whole picture, this book addresses the question I get most often when telling children about the Crafts: Why did they run away? So often our society dismisses the harsh realities of slavery. Just because house slaves were less likely to die of overwork or starvation and skilled laborers occasionally earned some money does not mean slavery was a benevolent institution. We need to better address this issue in American education.
One of the most interesting things about the Crafts is that William wrote a book about their story, called Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom. It is certainly next on my list of ebooks to read (since it’s free).
Let’s take a minute to discuss the bad: the illustrations. You know I am an Ezra Jack Keats fan! We love his picture books… but he should stick to picture books. The illustrations are dated and the black and white line art doesn’t have the vibrancy of Keats’ other work even though two page spreads are given over to each illustration. They do break up the text a bit, is the best I can say.
There isn’t much information about Florence B. Freedman online. She’s only written a few books, most of which appear to be out of print other than this one. However, she did her research. There isn’t an index or bibliography (since this is a 1971 book for middle grade readers), but she also wrote an introduction to a reprint of William’s book, and the end matter mentions that she conducted original interviews with their grandson, who provided the information in chapter 9, which covers their final years in America..
I would highly recommend this book. I was surprised the picture book on the Crafts we read earlier didn’t cite it in the bibliography or recommended reading. Although it was written in 1971, it didn’t feel dated (well maybe the cover and art, but not the text). Although this is a middle grade book, I actually recommend it for teens and adults as well. Compared to adult non-fiction, it is shorter but comprehensive.