By Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome. HarperCollins, 2015. 40 pages. $17.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 8 and up.Buy on FJ Amazon Store
It is hard to imagine how someone could capture an entire complex life more effectively than Ann Turner has done in this picture book biography of Sojourner Truth. It is the voice that lifts like song right off the page, sounding as if the woman who inspired so many with her fiery speeches has written the book herself. The voice is as simple as it is eloquent. As her siblings were sold to other slave owners, “Mama told me to look up at the stars at night shining over my brothers and sisters . . . her heart had twelve holes in it I know.” The illustrations match the glory of the story; in rich color paired with tender lines, these are deeply personal watercolor paintings that vary from page to page. On the spread that tells how she ran away, the text too runs across the page. Small motion-picture like vignettes of Truth and her baby illustrate the running words across three rows, only to land, as the page turns, on a wide, white bed, where someone says “Welcome” to her, and she wonders, “had anyone ever said that word to me before?”
Turner touches lightly but profoundly on the painful details that comprise her life—rescuing her young son from slavery, she says “his back a mess of scars, his soul too, frightened of his mama at first, but he came to know me at last.” She goes on to tell of her call to speak the word of God, and how her “voice is like Gabriel’s trumpet.” The author’s endnote fills in with fascinating detail the story that can’t be told in the first-person voice, and a bibliography is included for further reading. The photo that Ransome used for reference for the cover illustration is included with the note. This would make an engaging read-aloud for many ages, although there are descriptions of slave violence that would be difficult for sensitive or young children to hear. This book should be treasured as a way to introduce our children to the life of this extraordinary woman, to the tragedies of slavery, and to how it feels to be moved by the fire of God in your heart.