Books: Non-Fiction

Before She was Harriet

Book – Non-fiction. By Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome. 2017. 32 pages.
An illustrated biography of Harriet Tubman written in verse.

Time Periods: 18th Century, Turn of the Century: 1900 - 1909
Themes: African American, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance, Women's History

Biographies of great people typically start with the individual’s childhood and then show her progress from humble youngster to powerful adult. Not so in this creative flashback narrative about the life of Harriet Tubman, which begins by describing a weathered “old woman tired and worn” sitting alone at a train station.

This is Harriet, and the story flows backward from that moment. Striking watercolors illustrate how “before she was Harriet,” she was called a suffragist, a general, a spy, and a nurse. As the book progresses, you see her before the war as Aunt Harriet, an enslaved girl. Turn the page and she becomes the very young Araminta, learning from her father to read letters and read the stars.

The American progress narrative is absent at the end when the story returns to the train station and Harriet climbs into a segregated train car, helped by a Black porter while white travelers and white ticket-takers board a separate car. The story ends with Harriet, an elder woman on a train, remembering her many identities.

The artist painted the final portrait of her as humble and satisfied, making direct eye contact with the reader as if telling them to be so brave. [Description from Rethinking Schools.]

ISBN: 9780823420476 | Published by Holiday House.