Paths to freedom
Margot Theis Raven and E.B. Lewis team up again in the beautiful and evocative Night Boat to Freedom. Inspired by the WPA's Slave Narrative Collection, Raven brings us the story of Granny Judith and her grandson, Christmas John. In their previous collaboration, Circle Unbroken, Raven and Lewis told the history of the basket weavers and rice growers of South Carolina, so it is interesting that Grandma Judith's passion is another craft: fiber. She spins and dyes thread and wool. It was her love for color and fiber that led to her capture by slavers: She was lured by a beautiful piece of crimson flannel. And it is her love of color and fiber that keeps her spirits up and leads to her own escape from slavery. When 12-year-old John is asked by his grandmother to row across the river from Kentucky to Ohio to meet a man who is sheltering slaves, he is terrified. But, his grandmother's determination and the look on the face of the young slave Molly sustain John as he rows into the night, toward the lighthouse and the ringing bell. Black, blue and gray are the colors of the night, and Lewis' palette conveys the darkness and sense of fear perfectly. Molly is just the first of many slaves that John rows to freedom. All the while, Grandma Judith works on a patchwork quilt commemorating the freed slaves and, on the night of John's last trip, she adds red, the color she wants him to wear to free himself. Can he leave her behind? Of course not, and in a glorious celebration, Lewis paints the triumphant woman, exulting in her quilt and its colors of freedom, on free soil at last. Night Boat to Freedom is an emotional tribute to the strength and bravery of the many who worked and traveled the Underground Railroad.