Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts Book Poster Image
Fact-filled look at rights leaders' intertwined lives.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Chasing Freedom is chock-full of historical facts about two of the most important figures of the 19th century, including additional notes and biographies of the people and events mentioned provided as an epilogue.

Positive Messages

By shining a light on two exemplars of political willpower and commitment to liberty, author Nikki Grimes reveals how their stories are connected and "interwoven," as she says in the author's note. This approach to historical thinking is critical to understanding the lineage and legacy of these activist pioneers and the movements they inspired.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman have long been held up as two of the most accomplished women of the 19th century, and by learning the details of their lives and times as well as the ways in which their individual struggles brought them together and drew them into the same social circles, we can get a better sense of how they came to be such towering emblems of the fight for freedom and equality.

Violence & Scariness

Though it's not shown in the illustrations, there is a description of the infamous failed raid of Harper's Ferry by abolitionist John Brown, who winds up "beaten and bloody, dragged off to jail" and finally "in the hangman's noose."

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts, by Coretta Scott King Book Award winner Nikki Grimes, is a richly illustrated picture book. It's a work of historical fiction that uses a hypothetical conversation between two of the 19th century's most prominent American women to illustrate the ways in which their quests for liberty were similar and intertwined. Along the way, young readers are given a meaty, detailed, and chronological introduction to the temperance, abolition, and suffrage movements and the women and men who shaped them. Though it's not shown in the illustrations, there's a description of the infamous failed raid of Harper's Ferry by abolitionist John Brown, who winds up "beaten and bloody, dragged off to jail" and finally "in the hangman's noose."

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What's the story?

CHASING FREEDOM is a kid-friendly picture-book portrayal of a fictional discussion between Tubman, the hero of the Underground Railroad used to lead slaves out of captivity, and Susan B. Anthony, one of the loudest early voices speaking up for the rights of women. As they "exchange battle stories," it becomes clear that their paths have crossed many times before -- and that in fact many of the movements for social change in the 19th century were interrelated and featured the same people. Though their origins are different -- Tubman was born a slave, whereas Anthony was white and raised in an affluent and intellectual New England home -- their dedication to the cause of liberty is equal. The book traces their journeys through the Civil War and beyond, ending at the 1904 Convention of the New York State Suffrage Association, where Anthony asked Tubman to speak to a crowd of eager suffragists. Although neither woman lived to see voting rights for women, the active roll they took in the activist movements of their times laid the foundation for future generations who would see their dreams realized.

Is it any good?

While the hypothetical situation feels a bit contrived, and some dialogue is a tad goofy, it's easy to forgive in light of the wonderful historical information injected into their discussion. It's particularly encouraging that author Nikki Grimes focuses on the links among these seemingly separate stories, showing how the study of history is all about context and connections.

The stylized paintings by Michele Wood are haunting and evocative, giving life to the Victorian faces we've seen only in rare portraits and photographs and perfectly rendering the contrast between the separate worlds in which these two icons lived. The book may be too detailed and complicated for younger readers, but the stories of women like these serve as essential reminders that history has not been exclusively made by men; in fact, especially in modern times, it has often been women who stood up, against all odds, to lead movements of protest and dissent. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the legacy of these incredible women. In what ways does their work still continue to this day? Do you believe we have achieved full equality under the law for women and African-Americans?

  • As author Nikki Grimes notes at the end of the book, "history is often taught in isolated bits and pieces, and students rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are connected." Why is it important to understand how individual people and events affect each other? Does learning about individual examples help reveal the larger narrative?

  • How do the pictures help tell the story? 

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