Review: The Kidnapped Prince (YRE)

“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81

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The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron.  (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995.  My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  5.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences.  Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.

The Kidnapped Prince resized

Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years.  For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative.  If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.

After chapter two, the pace increases.  Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters.  Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.

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Review: Two Tickets to Freedom

“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65

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.

Two Tickets to Freedom
Two Tickets to Freedom by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.

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.

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Web: In the Public Domain

Anybody who loves 18th century literature has heard of Project Gutenberg and similar online methods of obtaining books which no longer have a copyright, but when we browse these websites, it is often easier to find books with racist commentary or ideologies than to source books by authors of color.  Today I have a few sources to help you.

The list Black Writers in the Public Domain has a variety of genres available mostly through Gutenberg, but also from some other Public Domain sites.

The same website also has a review of a novel called The Conjure Woman, which is set in the antebellum South and was written by a black journalist.

There are two bookshelves available on Project Gutenberg.  One is African-American Writers, and the other (which has some overlap) is the Slavery bookshelf.  The Slavery bookshelf has some international writers, but is mainly about African-American slavery, which means it includes abolitionist writings by white authors.

Following this rabbit hole eventually brought me to The Antislavery Literature Project, which is all about trying to source original texts about the American antislavery movement from a variety of public domain sources and link them in their database.  This includes writings by white abolitionists as well as trying to source a variety of early writings by authors of color.  Their website is helpful for finding items from smaller digitization projects and gives a brief synopsis of each work.

If you’d like to do a unit on poetry by black authors, poets.org is a great starting place.  They have biographies, essays on, and at least one or two poems by everyone from well-known poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou to comparatively newer poets like Claudia Rankine.

This website is full of sources for teachers, including recommended poems for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month and other occasions, searchable by poetic form.  Get even more in-depth for Black History Month with this part of the site that includes poems, essays, and original source documents.  There are also areas for movements like the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts.  I’ve only covered the African-American areas, but this site is pretty good about including poets from a variety of traditions and ethnic backgrounds; if you’re interested in poetry, it’s definitely worth a look!

Oh, and for a starter, here’s an anthology of poems, The African American Experience.  I’m reading this and a nonfiction book from the first list electronically and enjoying both.