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Cover image for Overground railroad
Overground railroad
1st ed.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 27 x 27 cm.
Reading Level:
AD 1000 L Lexile
Added Author:
A girl named Ruth Anne tells the story of her family's train journey from North Carolina to New York City as part of the Great Migration. --


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A window into a child's experience of the Great Migration from the award-winning creators of Before She Was Harriet and Finding Langston .

As she climbs aboard the New York bound Silver Meteor train, Ruth Ellen embarks upon a journey toward a new life up North-- one she can't begin to imagine. Stop by stop, the perceptive young narrator tells her journey in poems, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge mountains.

Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view. As they travel, Ruth Ellen reads from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, reflecting on how her journey mirrors her own-- until finally the train arrives at its last stop, New York's Penn Station, and the family heads out into a night filled with bright lights, glimmering stars, and new possiblity.

James Ransome's mixed-media illustrations are full of bold color and texture, bringing Ruth Ellen's journey to life, from sprawling cotton fields to cramped train cars, the wary glances of other passengers and the dark forest through which Frederick Douglass traveled towards freedom. Overground Railroad is, as Lesa notes, a story "of people who were running from and running to at the same time," and it's a story that will stay with readers long after the final pages.

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Praise for Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome's Before She Was Harriet , a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and winner of the Christopher Award

* "Ransome's lavishly detailed and expansive double-page spreads situate young readers in each time and place as the text takes them further into the past."-- Kirkus Reviews , Starred Review

* "a powerful reminder of how all children carry within them the potential for greatness."-- Publishers Weekly , Starred Review

Author Notes

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written many books for children, including Before She Was Harriet , which received five starred reviews, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and a Christopher Award, and her debut middle grade novel Finding Langston , which received a Coretta Scott King Honor and five starred reviews. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and collaborator, illustrator James E. Ransome.

James E. Ransome's numerous accolades include a Coretta Scott King Medal, three Coretta Scott King Honors, and an NAACP Image Award. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and collaborator, writer Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Warm portraiture and vivid writing by married collaborators Cline-Ransome and Ransome (Before She Was Harriet) mark this story of a family's journey north during the Great Migration. Ruthie narrates; she and her Mama and Daddy are leaving the fields of North Carolina for New York City aboard the Silver Meteor: "No more working someone else's land," Mama says. When the train crosses from the segregated South into the North, porters tell "everyone in the colored section/ to sit where they want." Some white passengers put their hands over empty seats, but the three find "smiles/ from new neighbors." Ransome renders the scenes realistically in bold colors, strong lines, and delicate collage-like patterns. He moves in close to capture Ruthie's serious gaze and her parents' gentle exchange. Ruthie's teacher has given her a copy of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Ruthie is quick to perceive the parallels: "a boy/ leaving behind what he knew/ and heading to what he don't/ just like me." The journey is seen through the eyes of richly developed characters drawn with care and sympathy. Ages 4--8. (Jan.)

Horn Book Review

Some walked. / Some drove. / But we took the train north. In 1939, as part of the Great Migration, young Ruth Ellen and her parents leave North Carolina, their extended family, and the oppression of the sharecropping system (explained in an authors note) behind and board the Silver Meteor, destination New York City. No more picking, says Daddy. No more working someone elses land, says Mama. Cline-Ransomes lyrical verse and Ransomes lush, full-bleed mixed-media illustrations illuminate their journey, punctuated by the conductors announcements of station stops. Ruth Ellen and her parents sit in the uncomfortably overcrowded colored car until Baltimore, at which point they can legally sit where they want (having passed the line that divides black from white / south from north / wrong from right); still, they arent made welcome by white passengers, whose eyes say keep moving; whose hands covering empty seats say not here. Ruth Ellen is reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass on the train, and Cline-Ransome generalizes the details of Douglasss own escape to emphasize the similarities in the two situations: jobs / education / freedom / are waiting...for us. / And like the boy in the book / we all running from / and running to / at the same time. Ransome does an admirable job of setting mood as well as establishing time and place. Warm browns, greens, and golds predominate; a spread showing the familys necessarily clandestine departure glows with the striking pink of a predawn sky. Paneled endpapers depicting Black people migrating North via foot, train, bus, and car are particularly effective. Martha V. Parravano March/April 2020 p.52(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

One family's experience of the Great Migration.Cline-Ransome and Ransome, a husband-and-wife author-and-illustrator team, have again collaborated on an important story from African American history. Narrator Ruth Ellen, Mama, and Daddy awaken early to travel to New York without the permission or knowledge of the landowner on whose land they sharecrop. (The author's note mentions that landowners often used threats and violence to keep sharecroppers on the land and perpetually in debt.) The family boards the train with luggage, tickets, and food in a shoeboxsince black folks cannot eat in the dining car and must sit in the colored section of the train. The conductor calls out the cities as they progress North. When the conductor removes the "whites only" sign near Baltimore, African Americans can sit wherever they wantthough it takes some time before Ruth Ellen and her family find white riders who smile a welcome. Ruth Ellen reads Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass aloud to Mama on the train ride, a gift from her teacher that parallels her own family's journey. Ransome's watercolor-and-collage illustrations effectively capture both the historical setting and the trepidation of a family who though not enslaved, nevertheless must escape as if they were. Cotton bolls throughout the images accentuate cotton's economic dominance in the sharecropping system.A beautiful portrayal of a historic and arduous family journey northward. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Leaving in secret, before Daddy's boss knew, / before our lease was up, Ruth Ellen and her parents rise before dawn, bid their relatives goodbye, and board the Silver Meteor, an early morning train bound for New York. The colored car grows more crowded at each stop, but north of Washington, D.C., they can legally sit in any car. They move to another, ignoring certain passengers' silent hostility. Every mile carries this family toward The Promised Land. Reading a biography of Frederick Douglass, who had traveled north long ago, Ruth Ellen reflects, We all running from / and running to / at the same time. The free-verse text reads aloud gracefully, telling one family's story with concise, resonant phrases and sensory details, while including allusions to history, religion, and culture, which a parent or teacher could discuss further. An appended note clarifies the term overground railroad, referring to the railways that enabled Black sharecroppers to escape the coercive tenant farms in the South and move northward. Created with cut-paper collage, graphite, pastel pencil, and watercolors, the captivating illustrations include strong, evocative character portrayals, beautifully composed landscapes, and unexpected combinations of patterns and colors that work together well. A memorable introduction to the Great Migration.--Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2020 Booklist

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