Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky

Brief Description: 8 yo African American girl and her brother on fatastic flying journey, meet Harriet Tubman who teaches them about Underground Railroad, illustrated with author’s paintings. Sequel to Tar Beach, about author’s childhood in NYC

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Date Range: 1849, 1949

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Original Publication: 1993

Suitable for Grades: K-3rd

Target Audience: Picture Book

Librarian's Review

Another book from author, artist, and quilter Faith Ringgold featuring eight-year-old Cassie, who fantastically floated through the air with her younger brother in 1991’s “Tar Beach”. This time around, Be Be spontaneously jumps aboard a mysterious old train they encounter in the sky, and before Cassie can stop him, the train moves away. But then Harriet Tubman appears at Cassie’s side and teaches Cassie about the Underground Railroad and African American slavery. Carefully following Aunt Harriet’s instructions, Cassie follows a northerly route stopping at various safe houses along the way in order to meet up with her brother in Canada, the destination for freedom-seeking African American enslaved people.   This illustrated (by the author) story is a great introduction of the Underground Railroad for young people. It demonstrates the ingenious ways Harriet Tubman and others helped enslaved people evade detection and punishment on their way to freedom.

Although Ringgold is known for her story quilting, there are only two depictions of quilts in this book.   One is used as a signal for safety at one of the “stations”, and the other is to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Tubman’s activities. There is no mention of “show way” quilts, those containing secret messages or directions for travelers. (Some historians claim that quilts were not used in this way.) Back matter includes biographical information about Harriet Tubman, a map of the Underground Railroad routes in 1860, and a list of suggested further reading.

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