On a southern plantation, a little rag doll is brought to life by a loving mother and becomes a constant companion to her girl, Lindy. She observes every day as the slaves pick cotton, and sees how they are often mistreated by the plantation overseer. She also hears the slaves talk of escaping to the North, and one night, Lindy's mama wakes her while it's still dark outside. Together, Lindy's family goes on a journey, crossing the river and walking through the woods, until they reach a cabin, where kind white people hide them in the cellar. But when word arrives of slave catchers searching for them, the family goes on the run again, accidentally leaving the little doll behind. What will become of her now and what will she do without her Lindy?
Almost to Freedom is an imaginative story of the Underground Railroad told from the POV of a rag doll who becomes an observer to all the things that are happening to her little girl, Lindy, and her family. She sees Lindy's father taken away for trying to escape, and then sees Lindy beaten by the plantation's overseer. Then one night, Lindy and her mother steal away and are later reunited with her father, before taking a dangerous journey across the river and through the woods to a home where kind white people hide them in their cellar. But when slave catchers come searching, they, once again, run, leaving the little doll behind, wondering what's next for her.
I've been searching for good diverse children's literature that will teach kids about various aspects of history, and I can say that this would be a good book to help them learn about slavery and the Underground Railroad. It can be difficult to find a balance between a story being realistic but also appropriate for younger readers, and I think this one found that balance. It shows how slaves were mistreated and the dangerous reality of attempting escape, but manages to do so in a relatively gentle way that hopefully wouldn't upset children. This is accomplished in part by telling the story from the doll's POV, which is definitely an imaginative and different way to narrate. Colin Bootman's illustrations won the Coretta Scott King Award and I can see why. They are extremely well-drawn and a beautiful complement to the story. My only issue with the book is that, because the little doll was dropped in their haste to leave, the reader never finds out what happened to Lindy and her family. After reading the author's note at the end of the story, which explains her inspiration for writing it, I understood why she wrote it the way she did, but I still couldn't help being just a little disappointed. Otherwise, Almost to Freedom is a good book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to teach kids about slavery and the Underground Railroad.
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