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Friday, August 12, 2016

Speak A Word for Freedom: Women Against Slavery. Written by Janet Willen and Marjorie Gann. Tundra, Random House. 2015. $24.99 ages 12 and up

 "If you're ever in a carpet store, turn over a rug and look for the GoodWeave label. If you see one, you can be sure that no child slaves helped make the rug. You have Nina Smith to thank for that. Smith, the executive director of GoodWeave International and the force behind the label, wants to end child slavery in the handmade rug and carpet industry ... "

This book is beautifully designed, with full chapters about 14 women who have taken noteworthy action to make a difference in the world. For more than two hundred years women have been working to bring an end to slavery. Some included here are celebrated, while others are less well known. All have made a tremendous impact fighting slavery in its many guises.

Each chapter presents a captioned photograph of the woman presented, and is faced with a personal quote. Most are American or British, although Timea Nagy's story takes place mostly in Canada. I like that it is chronological, beginning with Elizabeth Freeman in a Massachusetts courtroom in 1781. She fought for her freedom from slavery, was granted it through a court proceeding, and went on to care for the Sedgwick family for many years. It was the first time that a slave sued for her freedom citing that slavery was illegal in her state. Thus, slavery ended in Massachusetts. She, along with the other women chronicled here, inspired the two authors to do their research and write a book about women who dare to fight for what is right and just. The book ends telling Nina Smith's quest to keep young children from slavery in the rug and carpet industry. The numbers of children in slavery in South Asia have steadily declined because of her actions.

In reading these chapters we gain a much more comprehensive understanding of the many ways that people around the world are enslaved. We can only hope that it serves to encourage others to broaden their knowledge and join the fight to make living conditions for many much better than they now are. It is a global view and will open eyes to much that we do not know. They are heartbreaking and hopeful, presented in a way that encourages readers to think deeply and clearly about how they might help.

It is a companion book to one previously written by the two authors, Five Thousand Years of Slavery (Tundra, 2011) and narrows the focus to celebrate the bravery and persistence of  a small number of women willing to fight for what they believe right. It is a tribute to their fight, and honors their contributions. Back matter includes websites, selected sources for each one of the chapters, photo credits, acknowledgements, and an index.

A quote from the Afterword: The Sensitive Nature of Woman states:

"One of the most important actions for young abolitionists today, as it was for abolitionists of yesterday, is to spread the word. Let people know that slavery still exists."

Books like this provide an impetus to all people to get out there and make a difference ... in whatever way we can.

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