“There are no trains in this story!” This was my youngest son’s reaction when I brought home a stack of books about the Underground Railroad. My boys quickly learned, however, that while this railroad had no trains or tracks, it may have been the most important and powerful railroad our country has ever seen.
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This collection of books will help both younger and older readers understand the cruelty of slavery and the high cost of freedom for those trying to escape. While this time in United States history is shameful, it is important that we study it so that we aren’t doomed to repeat it. I hope you find education and inspiration within these pages.
13 Books About the Underground Railroad
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler — Adler has created another fantastic picture book about the life of an American hero. This book is a simple and straightforward telling of Tubman’s story, as she goes from a slave to one of the most well-known conductors on the Underground Railroad.
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Bernadine Connelly — This story follows one family’s escape from slavery along the Underground Railroad, and is based on the classic American folk song of the same name. There’s also an excellent DVD of this story, ready by Morgan Freeman.
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine — Henry has always dreamed of freedom, from the time he was taken away from his family until adulthood, when his wife and children are sold to another slave owner. Henry comes up with a unique idea to gain his freedom; he will mail himself to freedom! This book is based on a true story.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson — A slave girl named Clara dreams of freedom. One day, she hears two other slaves talking about something called the Underground Railroad, and she realizes that she can use her skills as a seamstress to help lead others to freedom.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole — This haunting picture book has no words, only eerily beautiful illustrations that show the serious nature of this time. A young girl finds an escaped slave hiding in her barn, and she is faced with an important decision.
Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards — A Barefoot (escaped slave) must move through the woods at night, in the hopes of quietly escaping the Heavy Boots who are seeking after them. The Barefoot must pay attention to the cues the forest is giving him, and the animals seem to help him find his way.
Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson — This unique story is told from the perspective of a little girl’s doll as her family escapes to freedom. When the doll gets left behind, she worries for her owner’s safety, until she is adopted by another little girl seeking freedom.
Chapter Books and Early Readers
Emma’s Escape by Sharon Shavers Gayle — Emma takes a visit to the Anacostia Museum for African American History, but before you know it, she has traveled back in time and must follow the Underground Railroad to freedom. This early reader is packed with information, and is perfect for kids reading at a second grade level or above.
What Was the Underground Railroad? by Yona Zeldis McDonough — Once again, the Who is…/What Was… series has put out another great non- fiction book about an important topic. This book features interesting facts, lots of illustrations, and profiles of those who made the journey.
Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary by Jerdine Nolen — This fictional diary of a 12 year-old house slave in Virginia is a great choice for kids reading at a fourth grade level or higher. Eliza learns of the Underground Railroad on a trip with her mistress, and soon she is being led to freedom by Harriet Tubman, remembering the stories her mother had taught her.
Dear Austin: Letters From the Underground Railroad by Elvira Woodruff — A young boy named Levi writes his older brother Austin letters about his work to help slaves find freedom through the Underground Railroad. Naive Levi very quickly realizes how desperate the plight of the slaves is, and through his letters, he shares what he sees with his brother. This fictional account is best for kids reading at a third grade level or higher.
Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone — The only source of joy in young Anna Weems life is her family; their love is what makes her hard work as a slave bearable. One day, her family is suddenly gone, and her only hope of joining them again is through the Underground Railroad. This book is best for readers ages 11 and older.
Brady by Jean Fritz — Brady is known for having a big mouth, but he’s never had to keep a secret like this before — the secret of the Underground Railroad stop near his family’s home. Brady is faced with a tough decision; does he tell what he knows, or does he help and protect the slaves escaping for their freedom? This book is best for kids reading at a third grade level or higher.
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