Freedom's Pen: A Story Based on the Life of Freed Slave and Author Phillis Wheatley
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There are a few elements of this series that separate it from many other children's book biographies. First, these books are about little girls. They are not biographies of the entire life of these characters- these are stories about girls who made a difference while they were still young. This enables the young girl readers to relate to the characters more than they would if these characters had to wait until they were thirty or forty before doing anything significant.
Second, these stories are faith journeys. Wendy gets inside the minds of these girls in order to portray their struggles to make God an active part of their lives.
In 1761, Phillis Wheatley was a little girl of seven or eight years old when she was captured in Gambia and brought to America as a slave. But she didn't let her circumstances keep her down. She learned to read and write in English and Latin, and showed a natural gift for poetry. By the time she was twelve, her elegy at the death of the great pastor George Whitefield brought her worldwide acclaim. Phillis became known to heads of state, including George Washington himself, speaking out for American independence and the end of slavery. She became the first African American to publish a book, and her writings would eventually win her freedom. More importantly, her poetry still proclaims Christ almost 250 years later.
Philliss story begins in Africa with a slice of what her life might have been like. The authors note explains that Phillis mentioned her life in Africa only three times in her writing, so little is known of what it was actually like. The author describes enough of the slave ship environment for girls to know that it was horrid and evil without being graphic.
Lawton chronicles Philliss unusual relationship to the Wheatley family as not quite slave and not quite family, as Susannah Wheatley tries to help others realize that Africans were human by showing that they could learn if given a chance. Lawton also shows the difficult and lonely position this places Phillis in, as other slaves reject and resent her. Phillis attempts to apply Scripture such as Love your enemies and pray for them that spitefully use you (Matthew 5:44) to a fictional relationship with a hostile fellow slave.
Freedoms Pen is well-written, moving, and enjoyable. From a biblical viewpoint, it introduces young readers to a historical character who achieved great things in her short life. My nine-year-old daughter loved reading it and had me read it to her after she read it. She had no trouble with the vocabulary or with the descriptions of life on shipboard. I am considering purchasing other books in this series because of this one. Debbie W. Wilson, www.christianbookpreviews.com
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