Night Boat to Freedom- by Margot Theis Raven

IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
IRA Teachers’ Choices
Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
Beacon of Freedom Award Nominee
Book Sense Children’s Pick
CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI)
NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
Booklist Editors’ Choice
Night Boat to Freedom is a significant picture book of weighty importance.  This challenging historical narrative is based on the accounts of several former slaves.  Their oral histories were recorded as part of the Great Depression Federal Writers Project. This book offers the opportunity for parents or teachers to have discussions with the children in their care about the many issues surrounding slavery- the significance of it- especially pertaining to the United States and contemporary issues regarding human trafficking.
The story focuses on an admirable young boy- Christmas John and his grandmother- Granny Judith and their experience living in the slave endorsing state of Kentucky.  The plot follows their thrilling and dangerous escape to the free state of Ohio.   The illustrations sensitively portray shifts in light- and the watercolors are infused with a wonderful warm glowing tone.  Light seems to radiate from the courageous characters- deftly conveying the shadowy darkness of the river landscape on a moonless night in a satisfying manner.
The narration interweaves generations of personal anecdotes in an intriguing manner- subtly shifting between the account of Grandma Judith from her childhood in Africa to the perspective of the night watchmen awaiting the midnight voyagers journeying to freedom on a rickety rowboat.  The voice of Christmas John is endearingly captured in realistic speech- I felt that I could actually hear his voice-
It was black dark and I couldn’t see her, but I felt her eyes. We didn’t risk to speak. I just rowed in the cold,  prayin’ nobody would hear my oars slap-slappin’ through the water.  The current pulled hard, and my heart pounded.  All I knew ’bout the Ohio side was to row toward a lighthouse and a ringin’ bell.  Would patrollers with whips be there waitin’ for us?
The pace of the story is quick and keeps the reader engaged.  By the end of the book I was teary with emotion and elated with the triumphant finish.
 I especially loved the use of colour and the significance given to dedication to a greater purpose and focus on bravery.  I also admire the emphasis given to faith and Christian values- Granny Judith is an amazing woman of virtue.

I will certainly be looking for more books by Margot Theis Raven.  Highly recommend this picture book especially for children aged 7-10 and particularly appropriate for any studying American History.


Granny Judith gives an encouraging hug to Christmas John


Night Boat to Freedom

Night Boat to Freedom

Kentucky Blue Grass Award Master List
Louisiana YR Choice Book Award Master List

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