I Am Harriet Tubman: Ordinary People Change the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am Harriet Tubman: Ordinary People Change the World Book Poster Image
Courage, doing the right thing are themes in thrilling bio.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

I Am Harriet Tubman is a series standout for making long-ago events compelling, personal, and current in today's world. There's a lot of detail about slavery and the Civil War and the many brave souls (including Harriet) who helped others and ultimately brought slavery to an end. Also astronomy: The North Star is a navigational beacon to fleeing slaves and becomes a metaphor for following your own sense of what's right. The Bible story of Moses, who led his people out of slavery, inspires Tubman to do the same.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage and helping others, following your heart ("your own North Star"), and doing what's right rather than what's safe. "The measure of success isn't what you achieve for yourself, it's what you do for others." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harriet Tubman herself is a brave, admirable figure who helps those in need in many ways over her long life. Many others inspire and assist her, from her mother, who stands up to slave masters to keep Harriet's brother from being sold, to the countless souls, famous and unknown, who worked on the Underground Railroad and helped the Union army in the Civil War. In one modern-day scene, Martin Luther King Jr. announces that he's following Harriet Tubman.

Violence & Scariness

Sensitive kids may be upset by scenes depicting life under slavery, as when Harriet's two older sisters are sold to a different owner and taken away despite their cries. Shows that beatings or worse awaited slaves who disobeyed their masters, learned to read and write, or sought freedom. A farm supervisor throws heavy weight at a runaway slave and it hits Harriet on the head and knocks her out. "It was an injury that forever changed my life," she says. "Since I didn't die, I decided God had a plan for me, and was guiding and protecting me." 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brad Meltzer's I Am Harriet Tubman is a stellar addition to the Ordinary People Change the World series, which uses engaging cartoon-type illustrations and interesting facts to introduce important historic figures -- who were all once regular kids. Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman learned courage and determination from her parents, finally fleeing north to freedom when she was about to be sold at age 22. There's plenty of drama and adventure here -- the Underground Railroad, the U.S. Civil War, and more -- and some harrowing scenes of slavery, including Harriet's young sisters chained to the wagon of the man they've just been sold to, who's taking them away forever. There are strong positive messages about helping others, following your beliefs, and being willing to do the right thing when it's neither safe nor easy -- which may lead to some age-appropriate discussion of real-life examples.

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What's the story?

I AM HARRIET TUBMAN begins as the title character describes her early life born into slavery (including the fact that nobody knows her birthday because nobody kept track of slaves' birthdays in those days). As she learns from her parents and others, she finds the courage to flee to freedom -- and then to risk her own life and freedom to help other slaves escape. Which turns out to be just the beginning of a long, eventful life helping people in need.

Is it any good?

Introducing the heroic woman who escaped slavery and then faced many dangers to help others, this Ordinary People Change the World entry offers thrilling adventures and positive messages aplenty. In I Am Harriet Tubman, author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopolous deliver a strong, relatable protagonist, often using words from her own writings to tell her story of a daily life in which you could be worked to death by a cruel master or lose your family forever by being sold to different owners -- and what she decided to do about it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about slavery in the United States before the Civil War as portrayed in I Am Harriet Tubman. How did it affect the daily lives of people caught up in it? How would you feel if someone owned you and one day they sold you to someone else? What if they sold your mom instead?

  • I Am Harriet Tubman has a strong message about doing what you know is right, even when it's not safe or easy.  Have you ever faced this kind of challenge in your own life? How did you deal with it?

  • Have you read other books in the Ordinary People Change the World series? Do you have any favorites? How does this one compare?

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