Harriet Tubman by Deborah Chancellor
Real Lives series. Bloomsbury, 2013. ISBN 9781408178393.
(Age 9+) Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and experienced the harsh fate of her fellow African Americans on plantations in the southern states, before taking the famed Underground Railroad to freedom in the north. After settling first in Philadelphia then in Canada, she travelled south many times, to lead first her family then others to liberty. Throughout her long life, Harriet worked for the abolitionist cause and was an outspoken advocate for women's suffrage. Eventually, she was honoured not only by her own country but also by Queen Victoria.
Deborah Chancellor has told the story of Harriet Tubman's life and work with skill, interrupting an engaging narrative on occasions to provide brief but necessary explanations of the attitudes and conditions of the times. The depiction of the principal character is heroic rather than well-rounded but this approach suits a brief account of courage in the face of adversity. The large print and simple sentence construction would usually be employed for a readership of 7 to 8 years old, but some maturity is required because Harriet's mother was among the slaves fathered by plantation owners. Rather than gloss over the issue, the author has addressed it with tact and sensitivity.
While the subject has been well served by the text, maps showing the principal locations could have helped readers outside the United States to gain a better understanding of the journeys undertaken by slaves - across the Atlantic, between plantations when they were bought and sold, and on the perilous journey north. A portrait is not provided but readers will find photographs of Harriet Tubman on the Internet. The cover illustration follows the standard format chosen by the publisher for all the titles in the Real Lives series.
The campaign by Harriet Tubman and other abolitionists in the nineteenth century was only partially successful. Human trafficking and slavery continue. Deborah Chancellor's biography of a remarkable activist will introduce younger readers to a troubling subject and illustrate how one person can make a difference.
Editor's note: Another in the Real Lives series is John Snow by Jack Challoner (Bloomsbury, 2013. ISBN 9781408178409), a biography of the man who discovered the cause of cholera.