Underground Railroad Books for Children

This is a transcript from the Booklovers Podcast about Underground Railroad books for children.

Laura: [00:00:00] Welcome to Clermont County Public Library’s Booklovers Podcast. I’m your host, Laura. And today, Amy from the New Richmond Branch joins me. We’re going to be sharing some children’s books related to the Underground Railroad.

Okay, Amy, take it away! I think you’re going to talk picture books?

Underground Railroad books for children

What Was the Underground Railroad
by Yona Zeldis McDonough

What Was the Underground Railroad

Amy: [00:00:33] Picture books and some non-fiction. So, the first book I’m going to talk about is What Was the Underground Railroad by Yona Zeldis McDonough. It’s part of the What Was and Who Was series that is really popular right now. It’s a basic introduction to the Underground Railroad.

And because people began to work together to free the slaves, that’s where we get the term Underground Railroad. There wasn’t an Underground Railroad, like a subway, going through cities and towns. It was a whole network of people, abolitionists who are the people that believe that slaves should not be slaves and that everybody should be free.  This book talks about how it all worked. How the homes were called stations and that the people, the abolitionists who were working to free the slaves, were station masters or conductors or operators, and that the routes were lines.

So, it did talk like it was a true railroad, but there wasn’t actually a railroad, and that escaping slaves were cargo or passengers. It was basically in code so that if they were talking and somebody overheard, nobody would be suspicious. It talks about the importance of the Ohio River. This is why we’re focusing on it here in Clermont County. We have quite a few sites that were involved in the Underground Railroad.

There are quite a few abolitionists that were here working to free slaves. The Ohio river itself was the border between the slave states, Kentucky and further South, and the North and freedom.

There a few other books in the What Was, Who Was series that are also tied to the Underground Railroad. One is Who Was Harriet Tubman. And then the other one is Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She actually lived in Cincinnati. And she also had passed through Clermont County. So, they were both very involved in the Underground Railroad.

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The Underground Railroad: an Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur

The Underground Railroad: an Interactive History Adventure

And then, the next book I’m going to talk about is a really cool nonfiction. It’s The Underground Railroad: an Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur.

Laura: [00:03:46] That sounds fun.

Amy: [00:03:46] It’s very cool because it’s a choose your own adventure nonfiction book. You can choose a path of beingan Underground Railroad abolitionist conductor. Or you can choose the path to be the runaway slave, or you could choose the path to be a slave catcher.

There are 37 choices that you get to make. And there are 16 endings.

Laura: [00:04:12] Sure. Different outcomes, different choices. That’s really interesting.

Amy: [00:04:16] Each page starts with a general introduction and then, it gives choices that say, if you choose to do this, go to this page, if you want to do that, go to that page.

It’s set in the 1850s, which is right after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. So even in the North, if a slave catcher caught somebody helping slaves escape, the slaves were returned to the South and people were punished up in the North. That was a challenge for the abolitionists because slave catchers were everywhere.

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Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen

Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad

The next one, another nonfiction book, is for an older reader. And this one is Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen. It’s the archeology of the Underground Railroad. The challenge with the Underground Railroad, because everything was always hidden, is trying to find that story, trying to find that past.

Imagine how difficult it must be to gather information about a time in our history when the activities of the men, women, and children who lived through it were purposely hidden.

And that is the challenge for historians and archeologists. This book looks through laws, official documents and household records, and personal journals and diaries, and buildings to try and find those histories.

Laura: [00:06:25] Sounds fascinating.

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Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Amy: [00:06:26] It is. The next one I have is Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford.  Harriet Tubman is the quintessential conductor of the Underground Railroad. She personally saved over 300 slaves. The book’s illustrated by Kadir Nelson and his illustrations are amazing. They bring her story to life and it’s really poetic and the illustrations give you a sense of place.

Laura: [00:07:10] They’re gorgeous.

Amy: [00:07:10] The writing is short, but it is enough to give you a sense of who Harriet Tubman truly was. They called her Moses because she led her people to freedom. She never lost a passenger, on her Underground Railroad.

Laura: [00:07:29] Wow!

Available as a:

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom
by Carole Boston Weatherford

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom

Amy: [00:07:30] Another picture book biography is Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford. Henry was a slave who packed himself into a box mailed himself to abolitionists. At one point, his box was turned upside down and he was on his head for a while, the blood draining to his head and he had a horrible headache, because of it. Eventually his box was righted. He mailed himself to freedom

Laura: [00:08:18] That’s a story I’ve never heard of it before. Sounds incredible!

Amy: [00:08:22] I believe he ended up in Otterbein, Ohio for awhile and then went to London. With the Fugitive Slave Act, he decided he would be more free there.

Laura: [00:08:43] That’s amazing!

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Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor

Amy: [00:08:44] Now we’re going to leave the world of picture books because the next one I’m going to talk about is Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale. It’s a graphic novel, but it’s nonfiction as well.

Laura: [00:09:15] Oh, that’s interesting. Are there many graphic novels that are non-fiction? I always think of fiction when I see graphic novels.

Amy: [00:09:22] There are a few, not anywhere near as many as fiction. This graphic novel tells Harriet Tubman’s story.

Laura: [00:09:31] Oh, that’s super cool.

Amy: [00:09:32] it gives so much background on her and who she was. The whole graphic novel concept makes it so much more fun and interesting to read.

Laura: [00:09:49] Pictures make everything better.

Amy: [00:09:50] Pictures do make everything better.

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River Runs Deep by Jennifer Bradbury

River Runs Deep

My last book, which is not a picture book, even though we just said pictures, make everything better is called River Runs Deep by Jennifer Bradbury and it’s a juvenile fiction book.

This is book is adjacent to the Underground Railroad, because it’s really about the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. In 1842 or 1843, it was used as a hospital for tuberculosis patients.

Laura: [00:10:33] I didn’t know that.

Amy: [00:10:33] The book is fiction but it’s very historically accurate. The main character of the story is Elias Harrigan from Virginia. He goes to Mammoth Cave for treatment for tuberculosis. At the time, they believed the dampness from the cave would help with treating tuberculosis. Later this was discovered to be untrue.

The hospital didn’t last long – just a year or two. But while Elias is there, he meets, Jonah who is hiding and sneaks up on Elias and surprises him. And Elias can’t see him very well because the cave area is dark except for where their lanterns are.

Elias hears a voice. At first, he thinks it might be a ghost or that the cave is getting to him. But he discovers that it’s Jonah, who is, a runaway slave living in a free community.

The community of runaway slaves is further down into the cave. The hospital owner and the hotel owner of the mammoth cave area use slaves to lead the tours. Elias makes friends with the tour guides and Jonah. He learns how to navigate through the cave too.

Some of the other patients aren’t comfortable having slaves nearby and they try to find the community. Elias has to do everything he can to protect what he’s found.

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Other books

And that is just a few of the books of the Underground Railroad that the Clermont County public library has. And as you can see, we have a lot more that we would love  help you find in our collection.

Laura: [00:13:13] So for links to the books that Amy talked about today, as well as a link to our catalog so you could explore on your own or contact one of our branches visit Clermontlibrary.org. And Amy, did you want to tell us a little bit about the Education Collection?

Education collection

Amy: [00:13:30] We’ve always prepared teacher collections for teachers, but since so many parents are helping their children with schoolwork and so many kids are learning from home that we are expanding the service to Education Collection. Now parents and caregivers and really anybody can use the service.

No matter the age, no matter the grade, no matter the subject, we’ll find items for you.


Laura: [00:14:05] Absolutely. All right. Thank you for sharing all those incredibly interesting sounding books.

Thank you to our viewers and our listeners. Remember to subscribe to the Clermont Library YouTube channel for other great library content. Subscribe to the Booklovers Podcast, wherever you listen to your podcasts so you don’t miss an episode. And remember reader, read on.