Monday, 3 June 2013

Harriet Tubman, the Life of an African American Abolitionist, by Rob Shone and Anita Ganeri

Before reading this book, I had never heard of Hariet Tubman.  We're not huge studiers of the Civil Rights movement in the UK (or at least I did very little at school), and whenever Civil Rights comes up, it's often Martin Luther Kind Jr. or Rosa Parks.  Not that they're not worth learning about of course, but there are bound to be many unsung heroes of history, and I think old Harriet here might be one of them.

Firstly, I thing graphic novel Biographies are a brilliant idea.  Particularly for people from either really important historical events, or really boring ones.  The American Civil war, Slavery and Abolition and everything that comes with them are immensely complex topics covering politics, human rights, trade, ethics and any other angle you care to come from.  However, these graphic novel biographies streamline history, and tell it from the perspective or a single character.  A reader will also learn about the historical period and contemporary issues, but it is the life story of the individual that is central.  If you're going to break history into bite size chunks, seems a pretty good place to start.

As a child Harriet was hit on the head with a metal weight by her owner which gave her seizures, headaches, hallucinations, visions and dreams throughout her life which Harriet put down to being messages from God.  Anyway, old Harriet had an eventful life.  An escaped slave herself, she personally led a total of 300 slaves to freedom on 19 separate missions over the border into Canada (ON FOOT in WINTER), freed 700 more as part of the Combahee River Raid, dabbled in espionage and armed scouting for the Unionists during the Civil War, nursing and cooking for the wounded, founding care homes for the elderly and being a suffragette.  Looking at photos of her she didn't smile a whole lot, but I guess some things are more important than fun.

The artwork is not overly stylised- realistic but unfussy, think functional cinema storyboard but in bright colours, and the text is kept to a minimum.  To the untrained eye it looks much the same as any other graphic novel.  Focused, clear storytelling that is engaging as well as informative, the authors stick to the biography and avoid getting too sentimental or preachy.  Harriet's adventures and the risks that she takes to help others help to maintain interest, and her
Such a good, accessible resource for learning about history, slavery or Civil Rights, would definitely recommend the series.  Glad it came my way and I'm doubly glad I read it because I learned a lot about an amazing woman. 

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