Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Railroad to Freedom, by Hildegard Hoyt Swift

Although it's hard to imagine a time when Harriet Tubman is virtually unknown in children's literature, apparently the early 1900's were such a time. This book claims to be the first time that Tubman's life is told "in book form". Clocking in at 364 pages, Railroad also contains acknowledgements and a full bibliography, as well as a note that racial epithets used in the text are not expressive of the author's own sentiment, rather, are "used for purposes of realism, where they would have been used by the different kinds of people whom this book concerns".
Not remembering much about Harriet Tubman from my grade-school American history curriculum, I found this an interesting read. It's not purely biographical; the book is distinctly novelized. Also, the black "dialect" is cumbersome and difficult to read at times, but may not have been to a child in those times.
While reading the book, I took an interest in some of the major plot points and took the time to do a little homework. I was very disappointed to find that some of the major turning points in her early life were altered with no apparent reason, and other well-known parts of her life were omitted entirely. It's a wonderful effort for the first book of its kind, but it was sad to realize that much more of the book that I would have assumed cannot be taken as fact.

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