Reading/Interest Level: Primary, Intermediate, Young Adult
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: James E. Ransome
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Frederick does not even know his own birthday. He was born on a plantation in a time when slavery was prevalent, and his living conditions are similar to those of work animals, though not as pleasant. His mother was taken from him at such a young age that he does not know her. When taken to Baltimore where he would serve in the home of his mistress’s brother-in-law, he meets the “first friendly white face” he’s ever seen. From her, Frederick begins learning to read. This changes his life forever. Frederick longs to be free like the ships he watches leave the harbor, and words will be the means to get him there.
The author of Words Set Me Free skillfully portrays the beautiful message of human yearning for knowledge and freedom through the experiences and voice of Frederick Douglass. Based off of Frederick’s own life, this book is written in such a way that young children can participate in learning about the sensitive subjects of abuse and human degradation. The illustrations creatively depict events in Frederick’s life from perspectives that accentuate his desire to be free. This book, if effectively used in the classroom, could be a platform for teachers to teach the importance of words, writing, and literacy, or in introducing the subject of slavery. Frederick always knew that “somehow words would set [him] free.” Similarly, children armed with such knowledge could soar to new heights.