Freedom (1783)

Publisher: Scholastic

Catherine Johnson brings the horrific history of slavery to life in this important piece of historical fiction for a middle grade audience.

Nat is a 12-year-old boy born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar cane plantation owned by the brutal English family, the Barratts. The story opens with his mum and baby sister being taken away to work on another plantation, leaving him to face his hardships alone. But when Nat is sent to England to look after some exotic pineapple plants, he starts to dream of freedom. When he gets there he discovers it’s not true there is no slavery in England, but in the hustle and bustle of crazy London, life is a bit freer. When Nat meets the amazing Shadrack Furman, his life is changed forever.

This is a brilliant adventure story that manages to give young readers a really important insight into slavery without being so upsetting that it’s impossible to read. A very fine balance, masterfully achieved.

While the main character Nat is fictional, this story is based on historical events and contains many people who really existed in real life, from former slave-turned-author-and-abolitionist Olaudah Equiano to white abolitionist Granville Sharp, to former soldier Shadrack Furman, the first black pensioner. There’s a very informative historical note at the end of the book, giving a fantastic summary of slavery for young (and old) readers.

Shortlisted for the Little Rebels prize 2019.

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