Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

If you traveled on the Underground Railroad

If you traveled on the Underground Railroad

Ellen Levine
Illustrator:  Larry Johnson 
For ages 7 to 10
Scholastic, 1993   ISBN: 978-0590451567

Was the Underground Railroad really a railroad that ran underground? No it was not. It was just a name given to the system that made it possible for a slave to escape from captivity in the southern states of America. It was "Underground" because it was secret and hidden and it was a "Railroad" because it was swift and seemed to work with regularity the way a train schedule did.

So what was this system that the slaves used? Sometimes slaves managed to make their own way north and to safety but more often than not they had help. There were special routes that many of the slaves took. People hid them in their homes - or "stations" - and arranged for them to get rides on trains, boats, and carriages. The people who did the hiding were called the "station masters" and those who helped the slaves get from place to place were called "conductors."

Needless to say this was a hazardous business. Slaves who were caught trying to escape were taken back to their owners and severely punished. The people who helped slaves escaped could be fined or imprisoned for their actions.

Often using accounts as described by real escapees, station masters, and conductors, Ellen Levine answers twenty-nine questions about the Underground Railroad. Among other things young readers will find out how the slaves were smuggled north, where they were hidden, what they ate, how long their journey took, and where they escaped to.

Carefully and engagingly written, this is an excellent book in the “If you…” series published by Scholastic.