Thursday, May 9, 2013


Granfield, Linda. Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace. Illustrated by Janet Wilson. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2009. ISBN# 978-0887769153. $15.95. Grades 4-7. Picture book—nonfiction.

Originally published in 1997 as Amazing Grace: The Story of the Hymn, Out of Slavery was selected as a nonfiction best book by Quill & Quire (a Canadian award). This historical account of the slave trade focuses on ship captain John Newton during the mid-1700s. Granfield’s writing is descriptive, rich, and engaging. She uses vivid metaphors and a relatively high level of vocabulary, with many interesting historical facts and details that older elementary age readers would probably find fascinating. Clearly Granfield conducted extensive research for this book, including Newton’s Journal of a Slave Trader. However, she does not sugarcoat the story and she presents information about the reality of the slave trade that could be disturbing for some readers, presenting information such as babies that were born on a ship were often “tossed overboard.” Somewhat ironically, devout Captain John Newton prays for the Lord’s help to “deliver his cargo of 207 African men, women, and children to be sold in the marketplaces of the West Indies.”

Eventually he decides to find a “more humane calling” and becomes a minister, writing sermons and a book of hymns, including “Amazing Grace” (which had a different title at the time). Additionally, he wrote a pamphlet entitled “Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade” in which he decided in retrospect that slavery should be banned. Newton worked to abolish slavery in Britain and the British colonies, which actually occurred the same year he died in 1833. Additionally, readers will probably feel relieved by the relatively happy ending.

Wilson has won many awards for her illustrations and her work in Out of Slavery captures the tone and advances the story. For example, the first page shows the ship African during a fierce storm in 1752. She captures the movement of the “vicious, glitter tipped waves” and shows the ship pitched sideways as “the masts strained and moaned in the relentless winds.” Many of the illustrations depict horrendous situations, but of course, this book is presenting a horrific time period in human history.

According to Wilson, Out of Slavery is a companion book to In Flanders Fields, in which she used a similar artistic style. She says, “some readers miss the fact that I've depicted the same boy on his forced journey from Africa. Also, the inspiration for the image of the captives in Africa came from reading a diary of a slave driver of the time [Newton]. He wrote about seeing Africans with tears streaming down their faces as they walked.” The paintings were done in oil on canvas.

I highly recommend Out of Slavery for any reader who wants to learn more about the realities of slavery. This is an honest account of human greed and suffering. Considering the fact that slavery still exists in the world today (although it is more covert) perhaps this book will inspire others to help make a difference.

--Cynthia McDaniel

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