What Was the Underground Railroad?

by Yona Zeldis McDonough, Illustrated by Lauren Mortimer

No one knows where the term Underground Railroad came from–there were no trains or tracks, only “conductors” who helped escaping slaves to freedom. Including real stories about “passengers” on the “Railroad,” this book chronicles slaves’ close calls with bounty hunters, exhausting struggles on the road, and what they sacrificed for freedom. 

Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary

By Jerdine Nolan, Illustrated by Shadra Strickland

It is 1852 in Alexandria, Virginia. Eliza’s mother has been sent away. It is Abbey, the cook, who looks after Eliza, when Eliza isn’t taking care of the Mistress. Eliza has the quilt her mother left her. And the memory of the stories she told her to keep her close. The Mistress’s health begins to fail. Eliza overhears the Master talk of her being traded. She takes to the night.

She follows the path and the words of the farmhand Old Joe, “ … travel the night … sleep the day. Go East. Your back to the set of the sun until you come to the safe house where the candlelight lights the window.” All the while, Eliza recites the stories her mother taught her along her Freedom Road from Maryland to St. Catherine’s, Canada.

Freedom’s a-Callin’ Me

By Ntozake Shange, Illustrated by Rod Brown

Fleeing on the Underground Railroad meant walking long distances. Swimming across streams. Hiding in abandoned shanties, swamps, and ditches. And always on the run from slave trackers and their dogs. 

The Underground Railroad operated on secrecy and trust. But who could be trusted? There were free black and white men and women helping. They risked their lives too. Because freedom was worth the risk. 

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

By Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom. But that dream seems farther away than ever. He is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. 

Henry grows up and marries. But he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows what he must do. He will mail himself to the North in a crate. After a long journey, Henry finally has a birthday. It’s his first day of freedom.

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom

By Bettye Stroud, Illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett 

Hannah’s papa has decided to make the run for freedom. Her patchwork quilt is not just a precious memento of Mama. It’s a series of hidden clues that will guide them along the Underground Railroad to Canada. 

Unspoken

by Henry Cole

A farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn. She is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience. She must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him?

Under the Quilt of Night

by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

A runaway slave girl spies a quilt hanging outside a house. The quilt’s center is a striking deep blue. This is a sign that the people inside will help her. But can she navigate the Underground Railroad? Can she lead her family to freedom?

The book descriptions used are primarily the publishers.

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