Before She Was Harriet

Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection is a beautiful story of Harriet Tubman. You’ve probably heard of her in connection with the Underground Railroad. But did you know she played numerous roles in history?

IMG_1793Title: Before She Was Harriet
Written by: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrated by: James E. Ransome
Holiday House, 2017, biography
Suitable for ages: 4-7

Themes/topics: African Americans, US History, leadership

Here she sits
an old woman
tired and worn
her legs stiff
her back achy

Overview: (flap copy)
Moses, General Tubman, Minty, Araminta—the woman we know today as Harriet Tubman went by many names. Each represented one of her many roles as a spy, as a liberator, as a suffragist, and more. A powerful poem and exquisite watercolor paintings pay tribute to a true American hero.

Activities and Resources:
• Find out more. Identify character traits.
This book offers a tremendous opportunity for a class to learn more about Harriet Tubman. Use an array of sources and have small groups each take one of her roles and learn more about her to share. Complete a character map with three character traits and textual evidence. Then compare the traits each group found. Did groups identify the same traits? Different traits? Take a second look at the different traits and see if evidence for those might also be found in the other roles she took.
• Writing: connect to self.
What roles would you like to play in history? What traits would help you?

Why I like this book:
This biography stands out from the rest with its lyrical language and creative structure. The story begins at the end of Harriet’s life, inviting the reader to wonder about the causes of her weariness, her worries, her walks under a clear night sky. The author takes us back in time, step by step, to see what Harriet did in each stage of her life. I think history’s great heroes are often hard for young readers to relate to, but by following Harriet back to where her journey began, children see a young girl with a dream learning something from her father that was key to her extraordinary future. The illustrations are rich with context and emotion. I especially love the cover. A gorgeous book all around!


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

6 thoughts on “Before She Was Harriet

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