Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan Book Poster Image
Document inspires vivid, moving portraits of slaves' lives.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Offers a detailed portrayal of a range of slave experiences and origins, exposing readers to much of the historical context in the process. The integration of actual primary source documents encourages further investigation and helps kids visualize the historian's reconstructive work.

Positive Messages

Every human being has hopes, dreams, and history and deserves to be remembered as more than a commodity. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The men and women of the Fairchild plantation find dignity in their work, have pride in their special skills, and endure despite being in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Violence & Scariness

Some of the horrors of slavery and the Middle Passage are referred to, though no graphic details are included.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan won a 2017 Newbery Honor and both Coretta Scott King Book Award Author and Illustrator Honors. It's a work of historical fiction, written in free verse, that imagines the lives and work of 11 enslaved people who, like millions of other slaves in America, were listed as property in their owner's will. By restoring their humanity and speculating on their individual origins, multi-Coretta Scott King Book Award-winning author-illustrator Ashley Bryan gives voice to some of the voiceless whose stories have been lost to history, creating a rich and varied depiction of plantation society. It's perfect for teaching kids about this difficult and complicated topic.

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What's the story?

FREEDOM OVER ME envisions the stories of 11 enslaved people on a plantation in the American South in the 1820s. Using their given name, age, and price -- the only details available in the historical record -- author-illustrator Ashley Bryan fleshes out full stories for each person, showing the wide range of slave experiences and focusing on the coping and resistance mechanisms the enslaved used to survive. By highlighting each one's special skills and individual dreams and memories, Freedom Over Me reminds readers of the human cost of slavery, as well as the resilience and dignity of those who were caught in the brutal and destructive system.

Is it any good?

Ashley Bryan's storytelling seamlessly integrates a bounty of historical information into an easily digestible picture book, making it an ideal introduction to a complex subject. The evocative illustrations are superimposed on collages of documents of slave transactions, bringing the primary source documents historians use to construct slave narratives into view. The nuance, emotion, and soul in each portrayal gives young readers a chance to engage openly and honestly with one of the darkest and most difficult-to-approach chapters in American history. 

Free-verse, first-person narratives effectively give personalities, hopes, and dreams to the individuals who were only names with a monetary value noted in an actual 1828 will. For example, a slave named Stephen says, "My owners see me/as their property,/following their orders, doing their bidding./But through my carpentry/I feel the accomplishment/and pride/of a free man." Althea, the plantation laundress whose value is listed in the will as $175, says, "As slaves,/we do what our owners demand of us./As human beings,/our real lives/are our precious secret."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the wide variety of slave experiences in the New World. What sorts of tasks might enslaved people perform? How did where they were brought affect what their lives were like?

  • What do you think of historical fiction? Even though the details of the stories are made up by the author, what can they tell us about how people might have lived in the past? 

  • How did enslaved people create families? How and why did plantation owners and slave traders work to destroy or disrupt family units?

Book details

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For kids who love African-American history

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