Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan | SLJ Review

redstarBRYAN, Ashley. Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. illus. by Ashley Bryan. 56p. reprods. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481456906.

freedom over meGr 4-6 –Using real documents from an estate appraisal dated July 5, 1828, Bryan has created beautiful portrait paintings for 11 people who were named and priced as property on the Fairchildses’ estate (the documents are reproduced fully in the endpapers and in segments throughout the work). Relying on narrative poetry to explore each figure’s inner and outer life, Bryan gives voice to their history, their longing for freedom, and their skills as artisans, cooks, musicians, carpenters, etc. Each person has two visual portraits, with each accompanied by a poem (on the opposite page). Collaged historical documents of slave auctions fill the negative space of the first portrait frame. The second portrait depicts that person in a private dream, often a dream for safety, family, community, or the freedom to create. Peggy, a self-taught expert herbalist and cook for the Fairchildses, knows that although she works hard, everything goes to the estate. She dreams of her Naming Day ceremony and her parents calling to her, “Mariama! Mariama!” Each portrait reflects the role of song, call-and-response, ceremony, spirituality, community, and griots in living a double life—doing what was demanded while keeping close in their hearts the “precious secret,” the constant yearning for freedom. Expertly crafted, these entries will deeply resonate with readers. Referenced in the poems are slave independence in Haiti, the drinking gourd, the North Star, and songs such as “Oh, by and By,” “This Little Light,” and “Oh Freedom.” VERDICT A significant contribution to U.S. and African American history that will elicit compassion and understanding while instilling tremendous pride. A must-purchase for all collections.–Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

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