Overground Railroad

Holiday House. Jan. 2020. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823438730.
K-Gr 2–Cline-Ransome and Ransome apply their considerable talents to this timely story about migration and a hope for a better life. At the crack of dawn, Ruth Ellen and her father and mother board the New York–bound Silver Meteor, the first train out of North Carolina that day. They board in secret, having already said their goodbyes to the family members who will stay behind. As they travel, Ruth Ellen reads aloud from her book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a parting gift from her teacher. Finally, as night falls, they arrive at Penn Station and Ruth Ellen steps off the train into the city that is their new home while the bright lights of the city shine like stars. Ransome’s beautiful illustrations feature detailed and expressive faces and layers of bright patterned paper that add colorful accents to the muted palette. The faces of the white passengers are all cut from a single shade of white paper while the black passengers skin tones vary, reflecting the diversity of the participants of the Great Migration. The inclusion of information about Frederick Douglass’s journey in the story helps show that even though Ruth Ellen’s journey north is more comfortable in comparison, she and her family still experience the same uncertainty and apprehension on their trip. Ruth Ellen’s narration brings an immediacy to the trip, her thoughts often interrupted by the train conductor’s shouts of, “Next Stop…” as they move along. An author’s note gives readers historical context, placing the story in the era of the Great Migration, inspired by just one story of the many who were, “running from and running to at the same time.”
VERDICT An excellent and highly recommended first purchase.

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