Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator:  James E. Ransome 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Simon and Schuster, 2012   ISBN: 978-1416959038

Frederick was the son a slave woman and it was said that the master was his father. Soon after he was born, Frederick was sent to live with his grandmother. Occasionally his mother would walk from the plantation where she worked to see her son. She had to visit at night and Frederick “never saw her face in the light of day.” Then one day Cook told Frederick that his mother had become ill, and he never saw her again.

   When Frederick was six, he was sent to the big house to live with the other slave children. The children had to eat out of a trough like animals, but they were not treated like animals. Most of the animals on the farm had a better life than they did.

   Soon after he turned eight, Frederick was rented out to the master’s brother. He traveled on a boat to the city of Baltimore. His new mistress was kind to Frederick and she even taught him how to read. This was usual. Most masters did not want their slaves to have any kind of education. When the master found out what his wife had done, he was furious, saying that being able to read made a person “unfit” to be a slave, and so the lessons stopped. Frederick was now more determined than ever to learn how to read because he understood that being able to read was one of the skills he needed to have if he wanted to become a free man.

   With a will Frederick set himself the task of learning how to read and write in secret. He found many creative ways to do this, and when he was twelve he used his tips to buy newspapers. He found out about abolition and learned that slaves were running away and going north to freedom.

   When his master died, Frederick had to go back to his old home. He was no longer a little boy. Instead, he was a fifteen-year old “who was free on the inside but not yet free on the outside.” Frederick was sure that knowing words “would put an end to my suffering” in some way.

   In this beautifully written picture book the author describes how Frederick Douglas learned how to read and how the skill allowed him to change the direction of his life. Based on Frederick Douglas’s book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, this inspiring story beautifully shows that words can truly set a person free.