Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Only Passing Through by Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell (Illustrated by R. Gregorie Christie)

Published in 2000
Picturebook / Historical Fiction

Anne Rockwell's historical, nonfiction book Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth tells the story of Isabella, a slave girl who was only nine when she was sold for the first time, and how she grew to become one of the most powerful voices of the abolitionist movement during the 1800s. Although Rockwell used many sources for her book, she relied on Sojourner Truth's own autobiography as her main source. Her book won a Coretta Scott King Award and was selected as a Best Illustrated Children's Book from the New York Times Book Review after it was published. The book has no page numbers.

This book is truly inspirational; it is about a woman whose faith and determination helped change the course of a nation. Rising from humble beginnings, Sojourner, a name she chose for herself, dedicated her life to traveling around the country telling her story and describing the horrors of slavery. Some hearts were changed; others were not. Despite angry threats to burn the places where she intended to speak, she vowed she would be heard "speaking from the ashes." Wherever she spoke, she posted a sign that read, "Proclaim Liberty" (Rockwell).

The illustrations in Rockwell's book are brightly colored, framed-pictures that fill an entire page and alternate from left to right throughout the story. The text is on one side of the page, while the illustrations are on the other. There is a picture with each turn of the page, which adds to the story as it unfolds.  I was surprised at how much the book focused on Sojourner Truth's faith; it was the driving force of her life.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth's faith and deeply held convictions were what gave her the strength to take the stands she took against the evils of her day. Sojourner wandered for many years and spoke to as many people as she could telling her story. She was, indeed, what she claimed to be, "a sojourner only passing through."

The author's note at the end of the book sums up the significance of Sojourner's life and the importance of her story being shared with others:

"When evil rules a time and place, certain good people are called upon to tell the truth to those who don't want to hear it."

"I've always loved stories of people who understood in one miraculous moment exactly what they had to do to confront the evil around them--Moses, Saint Paul, Joan of Arc, Saint Francis of Asissi, Sojourner Truth. Such stories fill me and many others with wonder. They live on and spark our imaginations, as they should. . . . I've told her story only up to when her transformation took place, for that part of the story moves me most. But there is more to tell of Sojourner Truth's life. On her long journey, she crossed paths with many of the great people of her time--Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott. I hope readers will go on to find out more about her and the times she lived in" (Rockwell).

After the Civil War, Sojourner Truth continued to travel around the country speaking on behalf of freed slaves and women's rights. She was "one of the first African Americans to demand, and win, the right to board public transportation along with white people" in Washington, D.C. (Rockwell).

Rockwell describes Sojourner Truth's final words at the end of her book, "In 1883, when she was dying, Sojourner told friends and family who had come to say good-bye not to cry. She told them she was going home, 'like a shooting star.' She'd always looked to the night sky, finding comfort and guidance there, as her mother had taught her. Her time on earth had been long. Now it was time to stop wandering. It was time to go home" (Author's Note).

One final fact that Rockwell shares in her book worth noting is that more than 100 years after Sojourner Truth's death, the United States launched a small vehicle to explore the surface of Mars. After a competition was held among schoolchildren to name the Mars rover, a girl from Bridgeport, Connecticut, won. The rover was named after "another American wanderer": Sojourner.

I believe everyone should read about this true American hero.

This Far By Faith
Learn More About Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth's Biography
Books About Sojourner Truth
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  1. Would this book be a good read aloud for second grade or is there to much text to hold their attention?

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  3. It might be interesting to read this book to your students and then tie in the fact that the Mars rover was named after Sojourner Truth. You could show pictures of it, etc. I thought it was interesting that a school child actually thought to name the rover after her. Must have been a bright kid!