May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2017-2018 Intermediate | January

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2016

From historical documents he acquired, Ashley Bryan gives breath and life to 11 enslaved individuals listed on the Fairchilds Estate Appraisement of 1828. The document identifies most of them by name, and as boy, girl, woman, or man, along with their “value.” The cold, brutal reality of a price attached to a human life is at the foundation of this work. But in imagining these individuals’ histories, daily lives, hopes, and dreams, Bryan defies that erasure of human- ness. For each person, he has created two poems and two paintings. The first poem/painting pair is a sober portrait, set against fragments of documents related to slavery, alongside a poem detailing elements of their lives and histories. The second poem/painting pair is a “dream” poem, and a vibrant, often joyful scene. In “Bacus dreams,” the blacksmith tells how every strike of his hammer against hot metal is an outlet for his anger, a blow for justice. In “Charlotte dreams,” she speaks of her artistry as a weaver, a means of self-discovery. In both these dream poems the speakers note the distance and difference between how their owners see them, and who they are. Across this extraordinary work, it is not only a sense of individual lives that emerge, but also of a community of individuals caring for one another. An author’s note includes a reproduction of the estate appraisal, which every word in this work defies. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Which person stands out to you the most? Why?
  2. Why does the author feel it was important to create stories and dreams for the people on a receipt?
  3. What do you notice about the illustrations on each page?

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