In Coretta Scott King honoree Lesa Cline-Ransome (Finding Langston) and CSK medalist James E. Ransome's (The Bell Rang) Overground Railroad, Ruth Ellen and her parents, along with many other black people, join the Great Migration, traveling from the agricultural south to the urban north. Through handsome collage, pencil and watercolor illustrations and lyrical free verse, the family's hopeful journey to find better jobs, homes and rights shows readers a major moment in the large scope of African American history.
In contrast to the earlier safe houses known as the "underground railroad," new developments in transportation meant that real railroads (and buses and cars) became the means of escape for people still tied to the land through sharecropping. Young readers will likely be drawn in by the author's riff on a familiar phrase in the title, as well as the spare but poetic language in which Ruthie narrates her long day's journey, starting in a North Carolina town at daybreak and ending in New York City later that night.
The family gets its first taste of change when they leave the train's colored section after Washington, D.C. But children will recognize that, despite the family's optimism, white people in the north still harbor prejudice. Ransome's bold, multimedia double-page spread expertly depicts this by showing a set of wary eyes peeking over a newspaper as a lady in a flowered dress holds her hand over an empty seat. Despite this sad state of affairs, "Mommy and Daddy say/ jobs/ education/ freedom/ are waiting in New York for us." Throughout, Ruthie reads aloud to her mother from the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," paying tribute to the characters' ongoing search for freedom. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer