Cover image for Words set me free : the story of young Frederick Douglass
Words set me free : the story of young Frederick Douglass
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2012.
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 29 cm.
Reading Level:
790 L Lexile
Added Author:
"Words Set Me Free is the inspiring story of young Frederick Douglass's path to freedom through reading"--


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 921 DOUGLASS 1 1
Book J 921 DOUGLASS 0 1
Book J 921 DOUGLASS 1 1

On Order



The inspirational, true story of how Frederick Douglass found his way to freedom one word at a time.

This picture book biography chronicles the youth of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African American figures in American history. Douglass spent his life advocating for the equality of all, and it was through reading that he was able to stand up for himself and others. Award-winning husband-wife team Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome present a moving and captivating look at the young life of the inspirational man who said, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

Author Notes

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of many award-winning and critically acclaimed nonfiction books for young readers, including Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams ; My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle's Journey to Alvin Ailey ; and Before She Was Harriet . She is also the author of the novel Finding Langston , which received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award and five starred reviews . She lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Learn more at

James E. Ransome's highly acclaimed illustrations for Before She Was Harriet received the 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. His other award-winning titles include the Coretta Scott King winner The Creation ; Coretta Scott King Honor Book Uncle Jed's Barbershop ; Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt ; and Let My People Go , winner of the NAACP Image Award. He frequently collaborates with his wife, author Lesa Cline-Ransome. One of their recent titles is Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams , which received four starred reviews and was an ALA Notable Children's Book. James is a professor and coordinator of the MFA Illustration Graduate Program at Syracuse University. He lives in New York's Hudson River Valley region with his family. Visit James at

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-5-This powerful, eloquent first-person narrative provides a moving account of Douglass's early life. Born and raised on plantations, he spent his formative years in Baltimore in the 1820s and '30s. His thirst to learn to read never waivered; he practiced writing with a brick and a lump of chalk, copying the letters of poor white children and stealing a copybook from his master's son. At 12-years-old, Douglass bought his first newspaper with tips he had earned. He copied words like "liberty," "justice," "freedom," and "abolition" and was inspired. Though this account ends with a hopeful plan to escape, an author's note reveals that he was unsuccessful but that he did escape in 1838 to New York, where he began his new life as an abolitionist leader. This talented team has created a concise, accessible, beautifully illustrated book based on Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Rich acrylic and oil paintings depict plantation life (poorly clothed slave children kneeling before troughs, devouring cornmeal mush like livestock) and the strong emotions of the people (a young Frederick being transported with hands tied behind his back, lest he escape). This handsome volume is recommended for slightly older audiences than William Miller and Cedric Lucas's Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery (Lee & Low, 1995).-Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Drawing from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the Ransomes (Before There Was Mozart) create a powerful biographical account of the anti-slavery crusader, writer, and orator's early life. Writing from Douglass's first-person perspective, Lesa Cline Ransome plainly relays the inhuman treatment of plantation slaves-"even the animals were rested in the heat of the afternoon sun, and they were never whipped bloody for being too tired or too sick or too slow"-and expresses how learning to read was a catalyst for Douglass's liberation. "I bought my first newspaper and learned new words-liberty, justice, and freedom.... These were the words my master would never want me to see." Ransome's acrylic and oil paintings combine striking naturalism with a palette of inky greens and blues; after Douglass uses his writing skills to forge a letter from his master releasing him, a final spread shows him looking boldly toward the North Star. Though an author's note explains that Douglass did not successfully escape that night (but did three years later), the story concludes with a sense of hope and determination. Ages 5-9. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Vibrant acrylic and oil paint illustrations accompany this story of Frederick Douglass's childhood from plantation life to city life in Baltimore, where his owner's kind wife taught him the alphabet and introduced him to literacy and the idea of freedom. The powerful narrative provides a solid introduction to Douglass and the topic of slavery. (c) Copyright 2012. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

(Picture book/biography. 6-10)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

From birth and early separation from his mother to his first escape attempt at age 17, this picture-book adaptation of Frederick Douglass' autobiography depicts the emotional turmoil and dehumanization of slavery. As the title suggests, the focus is on the forbidden act of reading. Taught by a well-meaning Missus, his lessons were suddenly halted with the warning, If you teach him how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. Teaching other slaves to read, Douglass devised a way to escape using his ability to write, and the adaptation ends with this clever scheme. An author's appended note reveals the attempt failed, but three years later, Douglass succeeded. Realistic acrylic and oil paintings portray harsh images of slavery. Cows graze in the field as slaves eat their meal from a trough. In a dramatic scene, young Frederick sits high on dock bales quietly reading by moon glow as unaware wealthy men walk below. Short enough for reading aloud in one session, this handsome retelling is an inspiring resource for primary-school classes and older reluctant readers.--Perkins, Linda Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

The win powers of optimism and determination shine through in this fictional account of an 8-year-old girl, Belle, and her grandmother, Ivory Belle Coles, of Pecan Flats, Miss. The creators of "Uncle Jed's Barbershop" describe how Belle travels with her grandmother across the segregated South on a small singing tour. Ransome's inviting watercolors emphasize the story's theme of togetherness, helping to transcend its sorrows. WORDS SET ME FREE The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. By Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. 32 pp. A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 5 to 9) The author and illustrator, a husband-and-wife team who collaborated previously on "Satchel Paige," base their biography of young Douglass on his "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." Using the first person, they describe Douglass's arduous early life as the spurned son of his master, forced to live apart from his slave mother. Visceral, intimate and plainly told, this story is sure to move young children, and also motivate them to read more. JUST AS GOOD How Larry Doby Changed Americas Game. By Chris Crowe. Illustrated by Mike Benny. 32 pp. Candlewick Press. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 6 to 10) Homer and his daddy are huge Cleveland Indians fans and are thrilled when Larry Doby, the first black player to hit a home run in the World Series, joins their favorite team in 1947. Especially since Homer has been kicked off his Little League team because, his coach says, Jackie Robinson is just "a fluke." Like many fans, Homer and his father switch on the radio to listen to Doby's big game, which "Just as Good" recreates play-by-play with Benny's lush acrylics. WE'VE GOT A JOB The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. By Cynthia Levinson. Illustrated. 176 pp. Peachtree. $19.95. (Middle grade; ages 10 and up) This extensively researched account of the Birmingham Children's March is enriched by Levinson's in-depth interviews with dozens of its student participants and by its intimate focus on four of those children, two boys and two girls. Their stories - Wash Booker didn't have a bath in hot running water until he was nearly 10; Audrey Faye Hendricks's parents were threatened for taking part in nonviolent protest - make clear why children as young as 9 were willing to risk jail to secure equal rights. Black and white photos and excerpts from documents of the time round out this riveting, significant work of nonfiction. BEST SHOT IN THE WEST The Adventures of Nat Love. By Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr. Illustrated by Randy DuBurke. 129 pp. Chronicle Books. $19.99. (Graphic novel; ages 12 and up) The most famous black cowboy in the West stars in this gripping graphic novel, based on the autobiographical "Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as 'Deadwood Dick.'" (And who wouldn't want to know more about that?) Told in flashback style by the older Love, whom we meet as a beleaguered Pullman porter, the story begins in a wash of grays that gradually glow with the golds, burnt siennas and lush greens of rural, pre-Civil War Tennessee. DuBurke's illustrations tend to rob his characters' faces of expression, though he is much better with the story's gritty action, horses surrounded by clouds of dust, and blazing gunfire. PAMELA PAUL ONLINE A slide show of this week's illustrated books at