An innovative picture book for older children, this unique collaboration addresses the history of slavery, while demanding the attention and interaction of readers of all races. Julius Lester, whose To Be a Slave was a Newbery Honor Book, uses eloquent text to interpret 24 of Rod Brown's magnificent paintings — part of a series of 36 that the artist created over seven years. Together, images and words reenact the 250-year journey from the first slave ships taking Africans forcibly from their homes, to the Civil War and emancipation. Aching with emotion — occasionally hope, but predominantly pain, fear, and anger — Brown's paintings depict such difficult truths as whippings and lynchings, the bodies of Africans floating near slave ships in the ocean, an angry slave tending white children, attempted escapes, and eventually, the final, joyful road to freedom . . . and a new uncertainty. Lester gives identities to the faces in the pictures, a reminder that even those people whose names have been lost to history were very real individuals whose lives were taken from them — both literally and figuratively.
What makes this book such a valuable learning tool, however, and such a unique response to a common subject of study, is Lester's inclusion of personal commentary, direct questions and "imagination exercises" in his text. These exercises encourage African Americans to examine their own feelings about being descended from slaves, provide Caucasian students with an insight into the African-American experience, and challenge students of all backgrounds to understand what it was in human nature that allowed the terrible institution of slavery to survive for so long. From Slave Ship to Freedom Road insists that students think about history, rather than simply learn the facts.