Freedom struggle

25th August 2000 at 01:00
We know slavery was cruel and we are ready, even eager, to lather sympathy on the poor slaves," Julius Lester says at one point in From Slave Ship to Freedom Road (Puffin pound;4.99, distributed by Turnaround. Tel: 020 8829 3000) - a resonant and moving picture book from the United States.

Ideal for guided reading with pupils in Years 5 and 6, it challenges children to think about the subject from several different angles.

Julius Lester won the Newbery Medal nearly 30 years ago with To Be A Slave, a book that combined historical and personal narratives. Here, he writes to illustrate and encourage the reader to interact with Rod Brown's paintings. This unusual, lopsided relationship between text and illustration isuniquely rewarding.

Lester came across the paintings in a gallery. He describes them as "a visceral response to slavery that eschewed photographic realism for a raw power that gave flesh to soul".

Next to the close-up portrait of a reflective, grizzle-bearded slave, Lester observes: "Tibby looks as if he is more there than here", and on every page that is where the writer wants the reader to try to be.

As well as sympathising with the victims of persecution, this must also include imagining our own capacity for evil. A painting of a slave whose back has been torn by a whip is accompanied by a probing enquiry: "What if your peers approved and deemed you honorable and good for beating someone?"

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