Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Friend on Freedom River

Friend on Freedom River

Gloria Whelan
Illustrator:  Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2005   ISBN: 978-1585362226

Louis is getting the farm ready for the winter. Soon the Detroit River will be frozen over and the cold season will be settled in for many months to come. Then Louis hears a voice call out softly to him. "Are you a friend?" the voice says, and Louis knows that runaway slaves are looking for help. Quickly Louis answers with the words that his father taught him to say and three people, a black woman and her two children, step out of the shadows.

The woman, Sarah, explains that she and her children, Lucy and Tyler, have very little time to waste, for slave catchers from Kentucky are after them. She needs help to cross the river. Louis knows full well that he could get into a great deal of trouble if he gets caught helping these people, but like his father, who has helped many runaway slaves, he feels that he cannot do otherwise. So with the boy Tyler to help him row, Louis begins the hard journey across the freezing, night covered river. As he pulls on his oar, he hears about the long journey that this family has made, helped along their way by people on the Underground Railroad.

This is a very moving description of what it must have been like to cross "freedom's river" as a runaway slave, and what it also must have been like to help those slaves to get to freedom. Those who helped the slaves on their way north risked a great deal, and yet hundreds of people did so, giving the slaves food and shelter, showing them the way, and hiding them, sometimes for extended periods of time.

Written with both simplicity and sensitivity, this is wonderful tribute to the men, women and children who risked so much to help America's slaves get to freedom.