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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Before She Was Harriet, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James Ransome. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. 25.99 ages 5 and up

"Before she was a
Union spy
she was a nurse
caring for those
with bullets
and hatred
and fear
tending to them
with bandages
and words
in the bloodied dirt ... "

Harriet Tubman is a familiar name to most of us. What I love about this picture book biography is that Lesa Cline-Ransome begins at the end of her life, when she is on board a train. From there she moves back in time to chronicle all of the amazing roles Harriet played in her long life. She was a union spy, an Underground Railroad conductor (perhaps her most noted work), a nurse, a suffragist, a guide for her parents to safety in Canada, and a slave herself. She is known by many names - Araminta, Minty, Moses, Aunt Harriet, General Tubman and finally, Harriet.

Harriet was not allowed to ride a train in her early life, so it is fitting that she now can do so, although it remains a segregated means of travel for her. It is impressive that the train ride begins and ends the book, with a slight change in the text on the final page. Wonderful!

James Ransome uses watercolors to show readers what a truly special woman Harriet Tubman was. Through his detailed double page spreads the audience is witness to her compassion, her resolve, and resourcefulness, and her belief in better days. Once a young girl, strong and determined, she remains near the end of her life as regal and iconic as she ever was.

"as Minty
as Araminta
who dreamed
of living long enough
to one day
be old
stiff and achy
tired and worn and wrinkled
and free "

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