Overground Railroad

Book review by
Diondra K. Brown, Common Sense Media
Overground Railroad Book Poster Image
Captivating story of a family's migration North to freedom.

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

Educational Value

This story brings the Great Migration to life through the eyes of a young African American girl. While many Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad, and its role in freeing enslaved people, this book tells the story of a similar journey to freedom a century later. 

Positive Messages

Positive messages about the search for equity and hope for the future appear throughout. The journey may be hard, but keep following your dream and never give up.

Positive Role Models

The book portrays a loving African American family in search of a better and brighter future for themselves. Ruth Ellen and her parents found the courage to leave their family and home behind under the cover of darkness, due to their unpleasant and dangerous circumstances, in search of the American Dream. They are all positive role models, as they display perseverance and great aspirations throughout the story. The family refuses to let go of their dream, despite how hard the journey may be. 

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Overground Railroad pays homage to the journey that millions of African Americans took to escape the rural South and embark on a new journey during what's known as the Great Migration. Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome, worked in perfect unison with husband and fellow Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator James Ransome to bring the heart of this story to life. The long journey away from oppression toward a bright future is told through the eyes of young Ruth Ellen who details the change in scenery, laws, and people as her sharecropper family travels on the New York bound Silver Meteor train from North Carolina in May 1939. During the train ride, Ruth Ellen reads about social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and is able to connect her journey to "The Promised Land" to his quest for freedom. The book helps readers, young and old alike, better understand an important and often overlooked period in American history.

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What's the story?

OVERGROUND RAILROAD is a fictional story that provides a glimpse into the world of millions of African American families, who escaped destitution in the South and secretly journeyed toward legal and financial freedom in more urban communities across America during the Great Migration. As stated in the Author's Note, this book is about "people who were running from and running to at the same time." The story touches upon the dangerous nature of the journey, as Ruth Ellen and her sharecropper family must flee their current home in secret, due to fear of harsh punishment from the landowner, as in harrowing tales of the Underground Railroad. Characters in the story honor both the differences and parallels between their journey and the one enslaved people took 100 years before the events in this book. Ruth Ellen must remain calm and patient as she embarks on a journey to a new tomorrow, which many regard as "The Promised Land." Trust in the belief that a better future is possible, and powerful love of family are prominent themes in the story. 

Is it any good?

This remarkable and educational story shifts readers back in time to a defining period in American history. Approximately 50 years after the Great Migration ended, Overground Railroad brings attention to how and why the landscape of American changed. The story of Ruth Ellen and her family can help facilitate conversation about how powerful and courageous migrants of this time were, and how steadfast they were in their dream for a brighter future.

Beautiful line drawings and seemingly tangible patterns set the backdrop for this compelling story. The feelings and dreams of the characters are palpable with each turn of the page. The book includes the depiction of characters of various ages, socioeconomic status, and race throughout the visually stimulating journey. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  •  Families can talk about how Overground Railroad details a family's journey from oppression to freedom. What other stories have you read where people escape terrible circumstances hoping for of a better future? 

  • Why do you think some people, like Ruth Ellen's grandparents, stayed in the South? 

  • How do you think Ruth Ellen felt when she finally arrived in New York City with her parents? How are her feelings different then from what she felt on the train? 

  • Imagine what life may have been like for Ruth Ellen and her family after the book ends. Draw a picture of her new life in the North. 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of racism and Black history

Themes & Topics

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