Books on Slavery & the Underground Railroad
In order for books on slavery to make this list, they must present the topic with tact in a way that is appropriate for kids, especially for the younger ages. Any book that passes this test but still has minor content that may be upsetting to a child will have Cautionary Notes to alert you to it.
Books for the older ages will describe the content in general, but may not include specific Cautionary Notes because of the maturity level of the intended reader.
While many of these books tell the tale of slavery, they focus on the character traits of bravery and courage, as well as the determination to overcome difficult circumstances.
And, of course, this is not an exhaustive list of books on slavery! Remember, we have THREE pages just for the 1860’s because there are so many books that fit into this time period. No other time period has this many!
For books on slavery for the youngest readers, a good way to introduce the Underground Railroad to the early elementary ages is with the Drinking Gourd stories, and one is offered from the I Can Read book series.
For older elementary (to Junior High) who can handle more serious themes, the historical fiction The Slave Dancer is a classic.
LIVING HISTORY BOOKS: AMERICA 1800s — Slavery & the Underground Railroad
Amistad Rising: A Story of Freedom by Veronica Chaqmbers, illus. Paul Lee. Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998. E-UE*
A captivating story in a picture book, although the *content is too intense for the younger child. Tells of the 1839 mutiny of a slave ship by its imprisoned slaves, and the resulting court cases in America to determine whether the slaves should be returned to their Spanish captors or allowed to go home to West Africa.
Amos Fortune: Free Man (Puffin Newbery Library) by Elizabeth Yates, illus. by Nora S. Unwin. E.P. Dutton, 1950. UE-JH+
The true story of a king’s son who at 15 is captured from his African home and sent to America as a slave. Amos overcomes his circumstances and prospers, gaining freedom for himself and for several others as well.
The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad (An I Can Read Book) by F.N. Monjo. E
A young boy finds runaway slaves hiding in his barn, and helps them on their way.
Escape from Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom
by Doreen Rappaport, illus. Charles Lilly. Harper-Collins, 1991. UE-JH
Read of the courage of brave men & women who made their way to freedom in spite of the risk and the danger. Each story involves a unique set of circumstances, describing one person’s creativity to overcome those circumstances. Fascinating.
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter, illus. J. Winter. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. K-E
The story of the song that showed escaping slaves the way to freedom and the Underground Railroad.
UE would enjoy it, too!
Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling. Scholastic. UE+
Friend on Freedom River
by Gloria Whelan, illus. Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press, 2004. E-UE
This is a beautiful book that tells a beautiful story. Escaping slaves need help to cross the river to Canada & freedom. Louis’ father is away and it’s getting dark, but he chooses to row them over by himself. The slaves & Louis encourage each other in the journey, as all of them must be brave.
Go Free or Die: A Story About Harriet Tubman (Carolrhoda Creative Minds Book) by Jeri Ferris, illus. Karen Ritz. E-UE
Listen for the Whipporwill (Trailblazer Books) by Dave & Neta Jackson. E-JH
Christian historical fiction. Harriet Tubman. Curriculum Guide available.
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler, illus. Samuel Byrd. Holiday House, 1992. E-UE
This biography tells of the life & influence of Harriet Tubman in an easy-to-read style with full-color illustrations on each page.
A Man for All Seasons: The Life of George Washington Carver
Large, colorful illustrations and clear storytelling make this book a winner. It takes you from Carver’s birth to his death, describing all the inspirational achievements of his well-lived life.
More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby, illus. Christ K. Soentpiet. Orchard Books, 1995. E-UE
Great pictures and a good story, but it only covers part of the childhood of Booker T. Washington — how he learned to read. You would have to read another book to learn about all the accomplishments of his adult life.
The Runaway’s Revenge (Trailblazer Books) (Trailblazers series) by Dave & Neta Jackson. E-JH
Christian historical fiction based on the slave trader, John Newton.
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox. 1973. UE-JH+
Gripping story of a young boy’s forced voyage on a slave ship, awakening the reader to the evils & cruelty of the slave trade. Captivating, powerful storytelling.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. HS
The book that alerted the nation to the evils of slavery and turned the tide for change.
The Walls of Cartagena by Julia Durango, illu. Tom Pohrt. Simon & Schuster, 2008. UE-JH
[NOTE: Set in the 1630’s] A young slave is fortunate to be well-treated, while others suffer the evils of slavery in the islands of the Carribean. He uses his privileges to help others. Difficult topic, but with a happy ending. Caution: After a difficult childbirth, a woman is described as being “naked and covered in blood.” Boy calls an adult an a**, although it is considered humorous.
Walking the Road to Freedom: A Story About Sojourner Truth (Carolrhoda Creative Minds Book) by Jeri Ferris, illus. Peter E. Hanson. Carolrhoda Books, 1988. E-UE
Only a few black-and-white illustrations, but the story holds attention. The strength & determination of one woman, from the horrors of slavery to her efforts to help her people, are inspirational.