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10 October 2018 SO TALL WITHIN: SOJOURNER TRUTH’S LONG WALK TOWARD FREEDOM by Gary D. Schmidt and Daniel Minter, ill., Roaring Brook, September 2018, 48p., ISBN: 978-1-62672-872-1


“In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted, Isabella lived in a cellar where the windows never let the sun in and the floorboards never kept the water out. She had ten or twelve brothers and sisters--she couldn’t be sure, since almost all of them were sold as slaves before she was old enough to remember.

But Mau-mau Bett, her mother, kept them in memory. Sometimes at night, she held Isabella and pointed to the skies over New York State. ‘Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters,’ she whispered. And Isabella looked at those same stars, that same moon, and dreamed.”


Gary Schmidt is one of my all-time favorite storytellers. Despite the multitude of books I consume, many of his characters remain alive in my mind year after year.


Over the years, I’ve read several books about Sojourner Truth. She’s an important historical figure. But in Gary Schmidt’s hands, the woman who began life as an enslaved child named Isabella rises from the page and the dust of history to become one of those unforgettable characters. The events that befall Isabella and the deliberate steps she takes in response to those injustices make for a story that is historically true but feels utterly fresh.


It doesn’t surprise me that Gary Schmidt chose to write about Sojourner Truth. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, his 2004 award-winning historical novel based upon horrific events that occurred a century ago in Maine is, unquestionably, one of the best books for young people ever written about the history of race relations in the North. Isabella is born in New York, back when slavery was legal there.


SO TALL WITHIN is both a textual and a visual work of art.


“When Isabella was about nine, she was sold for a hundred dollars--along with a flock of sheep. Mau-mau Bett held her one last time. They would always remember to look at those same stars and that same moon, even though they would be ‘ever so far away...from each other.’

Every night after that, Isabella kept her eyes wide open.


SO TALL WITHIN is beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Daniel Minter. Interspersed in and demarking parts of the story are eleven pages that make poetic statements about life  “In Slavery Time” and “In Freedom Time.” The illustrator highlights these thematic pages by inserting a vertical panel alongside a larger-print phrase of text. In a number of illustrations, Minter depicts Isabella and unnamed slaves semi-translucent against the backdrop of nature, including the trees that are the story’s symbol of growing hope. The slaves represent the countless people for whom the story is true.


If there’s an inspirational story about what one seemingly-insignificant person can accomplish, this is it. SO TALL WITHIN is a story you won’t soon forget, and neither will the young people with whom you share it.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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