I Am Harriet Tubman, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
As someone who has read a lot of books aimed at children by the author, it is nice when the author switches up his usual behaviors and does something different, although one wonders why he did this in this case in particular. Most of the time the author does not focus on the old age of someone, but here the author makes it clear to comment on the activities that Harriet Tubman did well into her 90’s, including feminist activism. One gets the unsettling feeling that had the subject not been a lifelong political activist that she would not have her life focused on, since the author has an unhealthy appreciation for activism that does not suit the future well-being of children. Likewise, the author here uses a biblical story to point out the relationship between the Old Testament and freedom, but one gets the feeling that the author only points out this religious matter in order to support a leftist political interpretation of religion and history. If the author had talked about the old-age behavior of other subjects or mentioned religion in a way that was not connected to a political agenda, it would be easier to appreciate such elements here.
This particular book gives a fair amount of vividness in discussing the life of black slaves in Maryland society, where Tubman grew up not far away from the free state of Pennsylvania. Facing the threat of being sold downriver after having grown up in slavery, she escaped and then managed to help others escape. The writer clearly relishes his subject here, going into detail about what it was like to be a conductor of the underground railroad, talking about the author’s head injury and painting possible illness as prophetic dreaming, and even talking about the spy work Tubman did during the Civil War thanks to her experience. If some of the books in this series are pretty bland, this one has a great deal of verve, in part due to the fact that the author gets to check off so many of his own interests as a writer, including praising activism, talking about the evils of the past, especially insofar as they relate to the South, and talking about spies as well as political agitation. The reader can really tell that this particular life is one that the author appreciates a great deal in its complexity and activity.
Nevertheless, even here the author manages not to include some very pertinent information. Despite being far more complete than most of the books in the series, which leave huge gaps in the life of the people being discussed, in this book the main gap is one that relates to the safety of blacks in the North. As a resident of New York (by no means the most racially tolerant of Northern cities, even in those days), the author probably does not want to discuss the role of the Fugitive Slave Law, which leads the author to be inconsistent when writing about the supposed safety of Tubman and her family and those others she helped free in Pennsylvania and in the fact that most of her family later settled in Canada. To be sure, the author could have explained this, but to do so would have explicitly admitted that the United States passed evil laws, and that would have not played into his political agenda. In a book like this, you can be sure that whatever is mentioned and whatever is not mentioned has a lot to do with the agenda of the author, which happens to be an agenda I do not find myself feeling very positive towards.