Book Review: story of escaped slave Robert Smalls well-told in book aimed at middle school audience

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I recall reading biographies of Jacques Cartier, John Paul Jones, and Davy Crockett when I was in the 4th grade. These stories took my imagination along great paths of discovery and ignited a love for history for me.

I wish I could have read Halfmann’s version (Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story) of the Robert Smalls (1839-1915) story of escaping from the Confederacy during the Civil War when I was 10 or 11. It would have fired my imagination and interest in the American Civil War much earlier.

Halfmann’s version of the Smalls story is refreshingly accurate and very well written. The text moves along at a good pace. Unlike Kennedy’s new book on Smalls (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s American Heroes: Robert Smalls, the Boat Thief), Halfmann is faithful to the true story in what she covers and what she has to omit for a children’s audience.

A real surprise is the bibliography in the back of Halfmann’s book which will serve the curious teacher and student well.

I would add one book to the reading list (for the teacher) that Halfmann does not cite as a source for her book: Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families, by Andrew Billingsley.

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story book should be in every elementary school library in the United States.

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