Chasing Freedom

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Michele Wood
Orchard Books, Jan­u­ary 2015

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Chasing Freedom

The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts

What if Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny sat down over tea to rem­i­nisce about their extra­or­di­nary lives? What would they recall of their tri­umphs and strug­gles as they fought to achieve civ­il rights for African Amer­i­cans and equal rights for women? And what oth­er his­tor­i­cal fig­ures played parts in their sto­ries? These ques­tions led Coret­ta Scott King Award win­ner Nik­ki Grimes to cre­ate Chas­ing Free­dom, an engag­ing work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion about two of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry’s most pow­er­ful, and inspir­ing, Amer­i­can women.

With breath­tak­ing illus­tra­tions by Coret­ta Scott King Award win­ner Michele Wood, Chas­ing Free­dom rich­ly imag­ines the expe­ri­ences of Tub­man and Antho­ny, set against the back­drop of the Under­ground Rail­road, the Civ­il War, and the Wom­en’s Suf­frage Movement.

Addi­tion­al back mat­ter invites curi­ous young read­ers to fur­ther explore this peri­od in his­to­ry — and the larg­er-than-life fig­ures who lived it.

Awards and Recognition

  • Amelia Bloomer Project
  • Bank Street Col­lege Best Children’s Books of the Year 2016
  • CCBC Choic­es 2016
  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library Best of the Best 2015
  • NAACP Image Awards nominee



  Two icon­ic women recount their sto­ries. In New York State in 1904, a suf­frag­ist con­ven­tion is about to begin, and Susan B. Antho­ny is sched­uled to intro­duce Har­ri­et Tub­man. But first the two women meet at Antho­ny’s home for tea and talk. Grimes art­ful­ly cre­ates an after­noon of con­ver­sa­tion and rem­i­nis­cence in care­ful­ly con­struct­ed, fact-based vignettes that allow each to recount her life, accom­plish­ments and con­tin­u­ing dreams. Each piece—there are 21—consists of both nar­ra­tion and dia­logue that draw read­ers into the world of slav­ery, the Under­ground Rail­road, the strug­gle for wom­en’s rights, the fight for tem­per­ance and the dan­gers of pub­lic speak­ing on unpop­u­lar sub­jects. While not a dual biog­ra­phy, there is a pletho­ra of infor­ma­tion about both Tub­man and Antho­ny as well as their times. Intend­ed for read­ing aloud, the text can be an excel­lent sup­ple­ment to 19th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can stud­ies. Wood’s full-page por­traits are stun­ning. The folk-style acrylic-and-oil paint­ings are vibrant, detailed and emo­tion­al­ly charged. Amer­i­can quilt pat­terns and African motifs add to the depth of artistry. A tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty for chil­dren to under­stand what these women worked so hard to accomplish—one suc­ceed­ing and one com­ing close. (cap­sule biogra­phies, addi­tion­al notes, bib­li­og­ra­phy, author’s note) (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

  His­to­ry is often taught in bits and pieces, and stu­dents rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are con­nect­ed,” writes Coret­ta Scott King Award–winning author Grimes in her author’s note. Here, she and fel­low Coret­ta Scott King–winning illus­tra­tor Wood imag­ine an after­noon tea con­ver­sa­tion between suf­fragette Susan B. Antho­ny and Under­ground Rail­road con­duc­tor Har­ri­et Tub­man, where the women take turns relat­ing inter­con­nect­ed sto­ries from their lives. Each spread, includ­ing a page of text and a full-page illus­tra­tion, tells a sin­gle anec­dote, includ­ing per­son­al turn­ing points in each woman’s life and major his­tor­i­cal events, such as John Brown’s raid on Harpers Fer­ry. In keep­ing with both activists’ strong reli­gious con­vic­tions, God and bib­li­cal ref­er­ences are invoked often, and Wood’s painter­ly illus­tra­tions fea­ture pat­terns inspired by Amer­i­can patch­work quilts and tra­di­tion­al African motifs. Back mat­ter includes short biogra­phies, addi­tion­al notes, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and an author’s note. Tex­tu­al voice and bold pic­to­r­i­al col­or are strong, and Anthony’s and Tubman’s goals main­tain rel­e­vance at a time when gen­der and race issues con­tin­ue to be news­wor­thy. Skirt­ing the edges of fic­tion­al­ized biog­ra­phy can be tricky. Although Antho­ny and Tub­man did meet repeat­ed­ly, Grimes states that this extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion comes pure­ly from her imag­i­na­tion. Younger read­ers, who may not real­ize this imme­di­ate­ly, may need guid­ance dis­tin­guish­ing the his­tor­i­cal facts from the fic­tion­al­ized mus­ings. Audi­ences will­ing to embrace the unusu­al con­cept, though, may view this as a van­guard piece in an engag­ing new­form that mix­es non­fic­tion with his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

  This unusu­al pic­ture book imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion that could have tak­en place if Susan B. Antho­ny had invit­ed Har­ri­et Tub­man to tea in 1904. Each two-page spread intro­duces a new dia­logue, stitch­ing togeth­er their mem­o­ries and their views on mat­ters such as slav­ery, tem­per­ance, women’s rights, and John Brown’s fight for abo­li­tion. Susan describes the hos­tile recep­tion to her 1861 speech­es call­ing for the eman­ci­pa­tion of slaves, while Har­ri­et recalls her jour­ney to South Car­oli­na as “nurse, cook, and spy” with the all-black Mass­a­chu­setts Fifty-Fourth Reg­i­ment. Even read­ers famil­iar with each woman indi­vid­u­al­ly may occa­sion­al­ly be sur­prised by what the two con­tem­po­raries had in com­mon — Grimes notes that they met sev­er­al times “at anti­slav­ery and women’s rights con­ven­tions.” While some knowl­edge of Amer­i­can his­to­ry is valu­able as a frame­work for their sto­ries, the text con­veys a good deal of infor­ma­tion in an involv­ing way, and the back mat­ter is uncom­mon­ly help­ful. Across from each page of text is a strik­ing, icon­ic full-page por­trait, paint­ed in oils and acrylics and often incor­po­rat­ing patch­work-quilt designs. Ready-made for read­ing aloud in three voic­es (Antho­ny, Tub­man, and a nar­ra­tor), this hand­some pic­ture book offers an orig­i­nal take on these sig­nif­i­cant Amer­i­cans and fresh insights into their times.  (Book­list, starred review)

Chas­ing Free­dom is anoth­er beau­ti­ful, rich­ly detailed book, a work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that imag­ines a friend­ship between Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny. Both women spent their lives work­ing to end slav­ery and secure equal rights for women.

Nik­ki Grimes’s choice of for­mat is notable. The sto­ry unfolds in a series of one-page vignettes, each build­ing upon the pre­vi­ous one, as the two women meet for tea one after­noon and look back on their lives and work. This struc­ture allows Grimes to intro­duce read­ers to move­ment lead­ers of the day. We see Fred­er­ick ­Dou­glass (who helped Tub­man hide slaves in his home), John Brown (who told Tub­man of his plan to raid Harpers Fer­ry) and Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton (who found­ed women’s groups with Antho­ny) (The New York Times)

Grimes (Words with Wings) cre­ates an absorb­ing fic­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion, based on his­tor­i­cal inci­dents and doc­u­ment­ed quo­ta­tions, between two inde­fati­ga­ble 19th-cen­tu­ry cru­saders for equal rights. The author imag­ines Tub­man pay­ing a vis­it to Anthony’s home on the day of the 1904 con­ven­tion of the New York State Suf­frage Asso­ci­a­tion in Rochester, N.Y., where Antho­ny intro­duced Tub­man as guest speak­er. As the two women trade sto­ries about their call­ings, accom­plish­ments, and aspi­ra­tions, Grimes adept­ly reveals their shared philoso­phies, faiths, pas­sion, and courage. The women’s dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties also sur­face, as do Tubman’s sto­ry­telling tal­ents and Anthony’s ora­to­ry skills. Inspired by Amer­i­can patch­work quilts and African motifs, Wood’s (Going Back Home) prim­i­tive acrylic and oil paint­ings incor­po­rate hand­some geo­met­ric and flo­ral pat­terns, but it’s her pierc­ing por­traits of these women that stand out most, accen­tu­at­ing their com­pas­sion and resolve. Back mat­ter pro­vides rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal notes and brief biogra­phies of Tub­man, Antho­ny, and oth­er like-mind­ed con­tem­po­raries men­tioned in their con­ver­sa­tion, includ­ing John Brown, Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, and Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

Poet and author Nik­ki Grimes (Words with Wings) and artist Michele Wood (I See the Rhythm) togeth­er present two fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ures from his­to­ry, as if they were engaged in con­ver­sa­tion: Susan B. Antho­ny and Har­ri­et Tub­man.

The his­tor­i­cal frame­work is fac­tu­al. In 1904 at the 28th annu­al con­ven­tion of the New York State Suf­frage Asso­ci­a­tion, in Rochester, Antho­ny intro­duced the famous con­duc­tor on the Under­ground Rail­road, who was a guest speak­er. Grimes then imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion between them in Antho­ny’s home, pri­or to the con­ven­tion. Each page num­ber appears against what resem­bles a quilt square. Wood­s’s acrylic and oil paint­ings car­ry this theme through­out the book. As Susan takes Har­ri­et’s coat, a vine of leaves threads through the pat­terns of Susan’s gray gown, and dia­mond motifs dom­i­nate Har­ri­et’s dress in choco­late brown. This palette con­nects the pair through­out the book. Har­ri­et’s warm rust-col­ored tur­ban becomes an iden­ti­fy­ing detail in the images that chart her jour­ney on sub­se­quent pages. Grimes cov­ers a lot of ground, touch­ing on the Tem­per­ance, Abo­li­tion­ist and Wom­en’s Suf­frage move­ments, the Quak­ers’ involve­ment in them, and Tub­man’s many trips to res­cue her own fam­i­ly, then oth­ers from cap­tiv­i­ty. Grimes’s con­ver­sa­tion­al tone makes acces­si­ble an abun­dance of infor­ma­tion. Some may wish for attri­bu­tion of sources from which she based her quotes, but four meaty pages of sources will point them to fur­ther read­ing.

Read­ers may be sur­prised to learn how close­ly Fred­er­ick Dou­glass worked with the two women, as well as John Brown and oth­ers. An eye-open­ing, aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing account of two extra­or­di­nary women. (Jen­nifer M. Brown, Shelf Aware­ness)

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