Kasi Lemmons’s biographical movie Harriet was a box office sensation in 2019. There has been both outcry and support for the film with some viewers homing in on points of historical accuracy as well as the choice of lead.
Debates aside, the fact of Harriet being the first big screen depiction of Tubman makes it likely that it will be used to teach history in homes and classrooms for years to come. This being so, context is key.
Below is a collection of books that parents and teachers can use to help youth round out their understanding of the complex world that existed in Harriet Tubman’s time. Published over the last twenty-five years, all have either won a Coretta Scott King Book Award or Honor or are ones that were written or illustrated by CSK laureates.
The content of these selections range from the songs and spiritual beliefs of the enslaved, to Black Jacks and free African American communities (whose historical presence and stories remain important yet are often grayed out in collective memory) as well as the sad reality of black slave catchers who abetted the “peculiar institution” and many topics in between.
- Ain’t Nobody a Stranger to Me written by Ann Grifalconi, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- Before She Was Harriet: The Story of Harriet Tubman written by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome
- The Bell Rang written and illustrated by James Ransome
- Freedom in Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
- In the Time of the Drums written by Kim Sigelson, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
- Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
- Never Forgotten written by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
- Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt written by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome
- Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom written and illustrated by Shane Evans
- The Village That Vanished written by Anne Grifalconi, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
- Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals Vol 1 (2002 edition) written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan
- Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass written by Lesa Cline Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome
Middle School Readers
- Black Hands, White Sails written by Patricia and Frederick McKissack (Related teaching resources here and here)
- The Captive written by Joyce Hansen
- Elijah of Buxton written by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic Teaching Guide here)
- Freedom River written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Brian Collier
- Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad written by Jim Haskins
- Let It Shine! Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
- Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl written by Tonya Bolden
- Open the Door to Liberty: A Biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
- The People Could Fly: The Picture Book written by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Pair with Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom)
Jené Watson is Chair of the CSK Technology Committee as well as a mother, writer, educator and librarian who lives and works in suburban Atlanta. She is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color.