Aunt Harriet's underground railroad in the sky

Faith Ringgold

Book - 1992

With Harriet Tubman as her guide, Cassie retraces the steps escaping slaves took on the Underground Railroad in order to reunite with her younger brother.

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Location Call Number   Status
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Picture books
New York : Crown c1992.
Physical Description
unpaged : ill
Main Author
Faith Ringgold (-)
Review by Booklist Review

Ages 6-9. Cassie, who flew above New York in Tar Beach [BKL Ja 1 91], now soars among the stars with her little brother Be Be. They come across a mysterious freedom train in the sky and meet Harriet Tubman. While Be Be hops aboard the train right away, Cassie holds back and has to trail it on foot, following the path of her slave ancestors, who took the Underground Railroad north to freedom. Aided by Tubman's whispering voice, Cassie escapes from a plantation, hides in woods and swamps, and learns to recognize safe houses where people will help her. Finally, she flies over Niagara Falls to Canada and freedom, celebrates with Aunt Harriet and Be Be. If the best way to understand others is to walk a mile in their shoes, Cassie learns her people's history well; so will readers of this impressive picture book. Ringgold's dynamic paintings combine historical fact with strongly realized emotions. One powerful double-page spread, based on a recurring dream of Tubman's, shows Aunt Harriet and Be Be flying toward each other within a circle of women dressed in white. Two pages of historical notes on Tubman and the Underground Railroad, including a map and bibliography, round out the volume. While primitive art is not new to picture books, few artists have used it with the narrative and emotional resonance that Ringgold creates in this impressive book. ~--Carolyn Phelan

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Cassie and Be Be, the young protagonists of Ringgold's Tar Beach , literally wing their way through American history in this otherworldly journey. On a fantastical flight, the kids encounter an ``old ramshackled train in the sky''--a remnant of the Underground Railroad whose conductor is Harriet Tubman. Rambunctious Be Be boards the train, leaving his worried sister to follow behind with only directions from ``Aunt Harriet'' and the kindness of strangers to guide her. Despite this work's laudable aims, its weighty subject matter, heavy symbolism and glitches in logic will likely prove daunting to young readers. The children's ability to fly is never explained, while the text mentions their earthbound parents' concern for them. A sense of time is apparent only in the final spread, which places the action in 1949, the 100th anniversary of Tubman's first flight to freedom. Ringgold's rich oils are somewhat more surreal than those in her acclaimed Tar Beach , portraying faceless hordes of slaves; other paintings present such historical details as Southern swamps and farmhouses. Cassie, Be Be and Harriet resonate with pride and energy, but their spirits can't help this work take flight. Ages 4-9. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 2 Up-- Using the symbolic motif of flying as she did in Tar Beach (Crown, 1991), Ringgold reintroduces Cassie and Be Be Lightfoot, who soar above oceans that look like cups of tea and meet a ``ramshackled train in the sky'' whose conductor is Harriet Tubman. Aunt Harriet, as she is called, explains that the railroad in the sky retraces her route to freedom every 100 years. Meanwhile, Be Be jumps on board. Cassie, who misses the train, must follow, living the slave existence, always one step behind, hoping to rejoin her brother in Canada. What follows is a compelling journey in which the author masterfully integrates fantasy and historical fact in such a way that readers join Cassie in experiencing the fear and the mystery of such a trip. The spare but eloquent text conveys much information, and the artist's flat, primitive illustrations in acrylic on canvas paper lend power and symbolism to one of the most dramatic chapters in American history. Everywhere, Cassie finds clues leading her to Be Be. Everywhere, she receives whispered directions from Aunt Harriet that lead her forward. Everywhere, the threat of capture lurks in the background in the form of the sinister chalkwhite faces of bounty hunters. Although adults may have difficulty with literal interpretation, children with only basic background will recognize that the story is both fact and fantasy--history and allegory. With gripping immediacy, Ringgold puts readers in the story on the side of the victims, insuring, through powerful words and images, ``that we will never forget the cost of freedom.'' Groundbreaking! --Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

Cassie Louise Lightfoot, the resourceful heroine from 'Tar Beach' (Crown), flies again. As she and her brother, Be Be, fly among the stars, they spot an old train onto which Be Be jumps. Then Harriet Tubman arrives, taking Cassie back more than one hundred years to guide her up the route to freedom in Canada, where she is reunited with Be Be. Ringgold pieces together a beautifully illustrated dream sequence based on Tubman's actual dream of flying to freedom. An excellent vehicle for discussion and visual enjoyment. Biographical notes, a map, and bibliography included. From HORN BOOK 1993, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Cassie Lightfoot, whose soaring journey in Tar Beach (1991) garnered a Caldecott Honor, flies again. She and little brother Be Be are ``among the stars, way way up,'' when they happen on a train emblazoned with ``Go free north or die''; the conductor is Harriet Tubman. To Cassie's distress, Be Be boards the train; but ``Aunt Harriet'' joins Cassie in the air, telling her about slavery (as represented in five powerful paintings) and what it would be like to make the perilous journey to freedom. Cassie is shown following the trail, taking refuge in an attic, looking for such signals as ``a star quilt flung on the roof,'' hiding in a coffin, and finally flying over Niagara Falls to Canada. The transitions here--especially those involving the literally depicted locomotive, which symbolizes more realistic journeys like Cassie's; and the separation between Cassie and Be Be, who are touchingly reunited at the end (the train has vanished without comment)--are somewhat confusing; the vividly phrased narrative holds attention, however, while Ringgold's robust, authoritative paintings are splendid. Among many memorable images are dark, crowded rows of barely suggested faces on a slave ship; ghost-white slave-catchers lurking as Cassie makes her escape; and Cassie triumphant above thundering falls, painted in broad, free strokes. . A unique and creative vision. Historical note; brief bibliography. (Picture book. 4+)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.