Under the Freedom Tree
By: Susan VanHecke Illustrated by: London Ladd
Through free verse poetry and bold illustrations, Susan VanHecke and London Ladd work together to share the story of the end of slavery. Beginning in 1861, Frank, James, and Shepard embark on their journey to escape slavery. The men end up in Slabtown, settling with other escaped slaves. There they worked to better their lives and teach their children to read. In 1863, under the freedom tree, they learn the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and that all slaves are freed!
This book has an unusual writing style in that it is written in free verse poetry. The rhythm of the poetry allows for a nice ability to be read aloud. Poetry can be tricky in books as aspects of the story could be left out for sake of keeping rhythm, but this book does a nice job of carrying on the plot and giving detailed information.
The illustrations are appear like paintings; in places you can see the texture of the canvas show through the designs. The coloring of the illustrations match the plot, like when they are escaping through the night, the scenes are dark, and when they are working very hard, the scenes are red, dirty with soil and bricks. The African Americans are depicted correctly for the time and in a positive way, but the faces could have more detail to really make them lifelike.
Overall, this picture book uses poetry and striking illustrations to depict the Civil War and many African Americans’ escape from slavery. This would be a good book for a teacher’s unit on the end of slavery for older elementary grades. Poetry can be complex, so it would best be read to the older elementary grades so they can appreciate it. It could even be used in a poetry unit to show that all poetry does not have to rhyme. The descriptive vocabulary would be good for teaching tier 2 vocabulary, such as “glinting” and “weary” to help students broaden their vocabulary and better understand the book. We enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it for teachers to have as part of their classroom libraries!
-Holly Reichert and Lauren Patrowsky