Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Minty: a Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder

Author: Alan Schroeder
Title: Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 1996
ISBN: 0-8037-1888-8

Eight-year-old Minty (Harriet Tubman) did not want to jump at every command given to her by her owner or the overseer. She would often run and hide when she was called. One day, after spilling a pitcher of cider while serving, the mistress burned her doll, and she was sent to work in the fields. Still she dreamed of freedom, of running away. When the overseer told her to take care of the muskrat traps, Minty began to set the animals free until she was caught and beaten. Her dreams of freedom grew stronger, so her father began to train her in the woods: how to run silently, how to capture food, and how to find her way north. One night, Minty passed up a chance of escape. Crying herself to sleep, she dreamed of "a road through the forest that one day, when she had the courage, would carry her to freedom…."

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman is a story built around the character development of Minty. Each episode helps to define and build her personality. When her mistress orders her to appear, "Minty giggled, and then stuck out her tongue just as far as it could go." The reader knew that the next event would lead to Minty’s punishment. The Bible story of David and Goliath that she tells her doll confirms her defiant personality. After she is sent to work in the fields, it wasn’t long before Minty was dreaming of freedom. When she released the muskrats from their traps even though she knew she would be punished, Minty is shown to be a character of compassion who values freedom for all. The story then provides background information on how Minty was able to survive during her many trips on the Underground Railroad. After she was beaten, she tells her parents that she wants to escape. Her father secretly teaches her the skills she will need to survive in the woods on her own, but Minty doesn’t escape when an opportunity presents itself. The story ends with her dreaming of freedom.

The dialogue contains just enough dialect and southern phrases to give a sense of the times and the people involved, both White plantation owners and Black slaves, such as the mistress stating, "Next time, you better jump to when I call," and Minty’s mother telling her, "Your head’s in his mouth, Minty, but you sure ain’t doin’ any pattin’. You’re just fixin’ to get your head bit off."

The remainder of the text contains very little physical description of the characters. That is left to the illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. He skillfully employs watercolors to add to Minty’s character and the other characters in the story through their expressions and actions. Minty’s hair is textured in tight curls cut close to the head. Her dark brown skin even appears dusty when she works in the field. The clothing and hairstyles of all of the characters are appropriate for the times. Even the equipment and items in the background of the barn and the big house appear to be from the 1800s. The contrast between the rooms in the big house and the room in the slave’s quarters and between the clothes worn by the master and mistress versus Minty and her family add to the sense of enslavement that Minty fights with all of her heart.

Although a wonderful exploration of character development, if the reader didn’t read the author’s note at the back of the book or know the contributions of Harriet Tubman as an adult, the ending would be unsatisfactory. The author, Alan Schroeder, leads the reader to believe that Minty will escape and survive, yet Minty chooses not to leave when the time comes, and she cries herself to sleep. It is like a book in a series that leaves the reader hanging in dissatisfaction. Because of this ending, the reader must read the author’s note or book would not be able to stand alone. It would be best if paired with other books that explore Harriet’s contribution to the Underground Railroad.

Review excerpts:
Publishers Weekly (5/20/1996) "With color and feeling he (Pinkney) humanizes a historic figure, coaxing readers to imagine or research the rest of the story." (Ages 5-9)

School Library Journal (5/1/1996) ""This beautifully illustrated and moving fictional story can be used to introduce Harriet Tubman and the injustice of slavery to young audiences." (K-Gr 3)

Booklist (2/15/1996) "The blend of fact and fiction is occasionally problematic..., but kids will be moved by the picture of secret childhood rebellion in someone who grew up to lead hundreds to freedom." (Ages 5-9)

Kirkus Reviews (1996) "This exquisitely crafted book resonates well beyond its few pages." (Picture book, 5-9).

Horn Book Magazine (Sep/Oct 96) "Quick action and dialogue create a taut story, although it is illustration that shapes the characters."

Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration 1997
ALA Notable Book 1997
Christopher Award 1997
American Bookseller "Pick of the Lists"
Time Magazine Best Children’s Book of the Year
IRA/CBC Children’s Choice

Expand your history lesson through the use of historical fiction picture and chapter books and biographies. Several books would provide excellent companions to Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder. Courage To Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman by Wendy Lawton is a story in a chapter book format that starts with Harriet’s life as a young child. Moses: When Harriet Tubman led her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford is a beautifully illustrated picture book centered on Harriet’s undying faith in God. For a nonfiction biography, Harriet Tubman: Riding the Freedom Train by Rose Blue provides a look at her life, or try Harriet Tubman: Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War by Thomas B. Allen for a look at other contributions she and other Blacks gave to our country.

For a different perspective on the Underground Railroad, try the picture books Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards, Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold, or The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud. A fun way of exploring history is through the You Choose Books where the reader makes choices, and each choice leads to a different consequence based on events in history. They offer The Underground Railroad: an Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur.


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