Jerdine Nolen
Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life
James E. Ransome, illustrator
Paula Wiseman Books
Simon & Schuster, 2020
book covers
books in alphabetical order
  Freedom Bird


In this inspiring story in the tradition of American black folktales, an enslaved brother and sister are inspired by a majestic and mysterious bird to escape to freedom in this dramatic and unforgettable picture book.

There was nothing civil about that warThey should have called it what it was: a big, bad war.

Brother and sister Millicent and John are slaves on Simon Plenty’s plantation and have suffered one hurt and heartbreak after another. Their parents had told them old tales of how their ancestors had flown away to freedom just as free and easy as a bird. Millicent and John hold these stories in their hearts long after their parents are gone. “Maybe such a time will come for you,” their parents said. Then one day a mysterious bird appears in their lives. The bird transforms them and gives them the courage to set their plan into motion and escape to freedom.

illustration from Freedom Bird
illustration from Freedom Bird, copyright James E. Ransome, illustrator, Paula Wiseman Books


“Powerful storytelling and immersive art.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“The intimate, compelling voice that Nolen (Calico Girl) creates for this story about two enslaved children begins matter-of-factly—“Now you know even before I tell you there was nothing civil about that war”—and stays strong throughout. Heartbreak strikes John and Millicent early as their parents, Samuel and Maggie, are sold—but not before they have planted in their children the vision of freedom, which they tie to images of birds in flight: “Because there is beauty and music in the flight of birds—listen for the song. It is a song for the soul.” Ransome (The Bell Rang) paints the children toiling in vast tobacco fields during the day. An overseer knocks a majestic black bird out of the sky with his whip, the children retrieve it under a full moon, and though John is taken to another plantation for months, Millicent is able to watch it heal: “Its feathers, black as jet, seemed to glow like burning coals.” When John returns, fate and the bird give the children a chance at freedom, an escape to the “wide-open spaces of the West” that takes on legendary dimensions. Vibrant writing and magical realism lift this story to one of triumph.” (Publishers Weekly)

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