written by Kay Winters
Dial Books (January 9, 2018)
Jeb and Mattie are about to escape a lifetime of enslavement by traveling north on the Underground Railroad. It’s a long way from Maryland to Massachusetts. There are people who risk their lives to offer haven at the many stops along the way: the boatman who rows them across the river, the driver of the delivery wagon who hides them, the family with the secret opening under their floorboards. And all the while, they must outrun the slave catchers chasing them.
Told in the voices of Job, Mattie, and the people who seek to help and hinder them, this richly researched and vividly illustrated book shows the heroism of two young people escaping the cruelty and horrors of slavery.
“In this companion to Colonial Voices and Voices from the Oregon Trail, Jeb and Mattie, two enslaved siblings in 1861 Maryland, are determined not to be ‘sold South’ as their mother was. ‘Ain’t gonna happen,’ says Ben. ‘Not to me. Not to Mattie. Not gonna be sold like a pig or a plow. We gotta run.’ Helped by members of the Underground Railroad and pursued by bounty hunters emboldened by the Fugitive Slave Act, they travel up the Eastern seaboard to New Bedford, Mass., a city famous for its resistance to slavery. Winters chronicles their journey in a series of monologues from every player in the story, taking pains to reflect the latest scholarship on the Underground Railroad (which is further explained in the thoughtful afterword). Jeb and Mattie’s courage is front and center, and the movement is portrayed as encompassing both white helpers and free black people. The framing choices in Day’s warm, textured paintings sometimes blunt the emotional urgency in Jeb and Mattie’s flight, but readers will come away with a better understanding of the horror and hope that drove people to risk everything for freedom.” Publisher’s Weekly
“Jeb and Mattie, siblings living under slavery on a Maryland plantation, tell their story of escape on the Underground Railroad. The story, told in alternating voices, opens in 1861 with Jeb, a blacksmith and slave, whose free black co-worker and friend, Sam, is part of the Underground Railroad. When Mattie, a house slave, overhears plans to sell Jeb, the siblings know they must run to avoid their mother’s fate: being sold south. They follow the North Star to Sam’s house—the first stop on the Underground Railroad. From there, the different people they meet along the Railroad—conductor, station master, operative—are introduced, all with their own voices, one poem per spread. Slave owners and slave catchers also have voices, demonstrating historicity with the use of derogatory phrases for the slaves—caregivers should be ready to discuss these with child readers. Day’s illustrations, which have the look of ink and watercolor, are filled with details that elicit a nearly tangible sense of time and place. After many trials and travels over land and sea, the siblings make it to their destination: freedom in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Well-utilized endpapers map the siblings’ escape route. A good step-by-step portrayal of the dangers slaves were willing to risk for freedom and the complex, lifesaving organization that was the Underground Railroad.” Kirkus