Monday, February 18, 2019

When Words Seemed Weaker Than Whips: So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth's Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt


... a little slave girl was born in New York State, one of many children, most sold to work far away. Nine-year-old Isabella, too, was sold, along with a flock of sheep, for one hundred dollars. Mama Bett told her to remember that her family all looked to the same stars at night. Isabella looked at those stars ...

... and she asked God "if He thought it was right."

Isabella knew nothing but long days of hard work, but she grew strong and tall, and just before slavery became illegal in New York, she left with her youngest, Baby Sophia, and took refuge with an anti-slavery family who paid off her angry owner. But to get back her older children, Isabella stood tall and took her case to court and finally won back the custody of her family.

"I felt so tall within," she said. "I felt as if the power of the nation was with me."

Isabella stood tall and walked to New York City, where she managed to unite with some of her sisters, and then she felt a towering desire to help all slaves escape the whip of the owner.

It would be a journey--a sojourn--to tell the truth about slavery.

Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and she began to walk again.

Sojourner Truth began her long walk through her nation. She spoke powerfully in the non-slave-holding northern states--Massachusetts, Ohio, and Indiana. She walked to Washington, and met President Abraham Lincoln, "the best president who ever took the seat," and stood tall in front of a trolley until it stopped and let her ride. And when the slaves were emancipated and the Civil War was over, she walked with the Freedmen's Bureau to gain education for all freed slaves. Now she knew what she was in this world for.

Sojourner Truth walked all across the United States, delivering powerful speeches.

What she had to say was plenty. She spoke of a woman's right to vote. She spoke about making prisons more humane. She asked the government to offer land to former slaves. She spoke against capital punishment. She walked thousands of miles... and everywhere, she spoke of Freedom.


Sojourner Truth, born a slave, uneducated and poor, was a tall woman, still even larger than life in her farseeing dreams for her country, one who casts a very long shadow over human rights for all to this day. Gary D. Schmidt's So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth's Long Walk Toward Freedom (Roaring Brook Press, 2018) is an eloquent picture book depicting the long life of the tall woman who changed her world and helped end legal slavery in America and became an early advocate of women's rights. In vivid descriptions and arresting prose of his own and the poignant words of Sojourner Truth ringing down through the centuries, and perfect for Black History and Women's History months, Gary Schmidt's new book belongs in all libraries for children. Schmidt, twice a Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist (see reviews here), has the added talents of artist Daniel Minter, whose illustrations are lovely, stark, and memorable.

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