Monday, July 11, 2016

Non-Fiction Monday: Frederick's Journey: the life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport

Frederick's Journey: the life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport. 48 p. Jump at the Sun/ Disney-Hyperion, November, 2015. 9781423114383.

There is no room for a title on the cover of this powerful picture book biography. Frederick Douglass' visage commands attention and gets it. 

A spare and starkly told narrative begins with the words, "Frederick was taken from his mother
when he was a baby and
sent to live with his grandparents." 

A one-and-a-half page spread accompanies these words. A grieving black woman is held back by a stern white man, while a flint-faced white man carries a swaddled baby away. Interspersed in the narrative, which continues to say that because his mother worked six days a week and the farm was twelve miles away, Frederick rarely saw his mother, are Frederick Douglass' own words, "I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She would lie down with me and get me to sleep but long before I waked, she was gone."

The next page turn features a stunning double-page spread showing a young Frederick learning to fish with his beloved grandmother and is almost soothing. "Living with my grandmother, whose kindness and love stood in place of my mother's, it was some time before I knew myself to be a slave."

These times ended when Frederick was six and his grandmother was ordered to walk the boy the twelve miles to bring Frederick to his master's farm where he slept in closet and wore only an itchy shirt. He witnessed much violence and always feared, "Her fate might be mine next."

Frederick was gifted to Old Master's relatives in Baltimore and there he was given clean clothes to wear and taught to read by his new mistress until she was ordered to stop by her husband. The seeds were planted though and Frederick was soon trading food for words.

This picture book biography is an eloquent but quick overview of the life of a complicated man. The illustrations are all quite powerful. I could not find what media the artist used. He does not mention it in his note, but does state that he grew his hair long, learned to tie a tie in the fashion and listened to Douglass' autobiography while painting for inspiration.

The slightly oversized book is beautifully designed. The end-pages feature watermarked portraits and two quotes. There's a short author's note, a timeline of important dates, selected research sources, and suggestions of books and websites for readers wanting to learn more about Frederick Douglass. I think I'm going to order his autobiography as an audiobook.

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