Before She Was Harriet

7 min. Dreamscape. 2018. $38.99. ISBN 97815200990088.
Gr 3–5—Mia Ellis dramatically narrates Lesa Cline-Ransome's poetic text in this adaptation of the picture book that shifts backward in time, highlighting the many roles Harriet Tubman assumed during her life. Mellow guitar and piano music frame the presentation with the occasional help of a violin and banjo. James E. Ransome's luminous watercolor paintings are minimally animated—a train moves through a landscape of hills and towns as smoke drifts out of chimneys. The animation is less effective when applied to the human subjects of the film, though. As Moses leads people across a river, their bodies sway forward, giving the impression that their feet are rooted in the water, like in quicksand. As a Union spy, Tubman hides behind a tree, opening and closing her eyes as an army floats, ghostlike, across the background. Teachers may find it beneficial to pause the film to discuss aspects of Tubman's life and to clarify some of the metaphorical language, like the passage that refers to the Combahee River turning into the River Jordan. Also, by filling in historical details and providing context, students can better appreciate the references on second viewing so eloquently expressed by Cline-Ransome.
VERDICT This is a solid purchase for elementary and public libraries and will likely be in demand as an example of a literary biography of high artistic quality about an important American woman.

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