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Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story Hardcover – April 30, 2008

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 870L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1600602320
  • ISBN-13: 978-1600602320
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 9 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3–7—Born and raised a slave in coastal South Carolina, Smalls worked on the docks, then learned shipbuilding and piloting. In an amazing feat of daring in 1862, he stole a Confederate ship by impersonating the captain, sent a rowboat to pick up waiting family members, sailed past five Confederate forts, and turned the ship over to Union troops blockading the area. Smalls became the first African-American captain of a United States vessel; he later served in the South Carolina legislature and the United States Congress. He was featured in Eloise Greenfield's collective biography How They Got Over (Amistad, 2003), but this book is an excellent vehicle to bring his story to a wider audience. Although presented in picture-book format, the text is detailed and there is a lot of it; the artistically beautiful but impressionistic images require some visual maturity from the audience. The oil paintings employ thick, bold strokes and deep saturated colors to convey Smalls's strength and determination in successfully delivering his and his crew's family members to freedom.—Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Halfmann focuses mostly on Smalls as a young slave whose master lets him work on the waterfront, and then on the planning of his secret escape to freedom. Spacious, impressionistic oil paintings accompany a text that describes Smalls, who, when the Civil War breaks out, uses his expert navigational skills and knowledge of the secret steam-whistle signals to guide his ship past harbor guards to escape with his family and crew. Suspense mounts as the women and children on the boat hide “in pindrop quiet” as their boat passes one, two, then three forts. When the boat finally reaches the Union side, the passengers must must prove that they are fugitives, not enemies. The strongly impressionistic art, largely in shades of brown and blue, will appeal most to older children; there are close-up portraits of Smalls studying charts and maps, and then open views of ocean and sky that speak to freedom. An afterword and source notes fill in Smalls’ important political role. . Grades 3-5. --Hazel Rochman

More About the Author

Janet Halfmann ( is an award-winning children's author who strives to make her books come alive for young readers and listeners. Many of her picture books are about animals and nature. She also writes picture book biographies about little-known people of achievement.

Recent titles by Janet include A Rainbow of Birds; Eggs 1, 2,3: Who Will the Babies Be?; Home in the Cave; Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. Janet has written thirty-five fiction and nonfiction books for children.

Before becoming a children's author, Janet was a daily newspaper reporter, children's magazine editor, and a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of four. When Janet isn't writing, she enjoys gardening, exploring nature, visiting living history museums, and spending time with her family. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and now lives in South Milwaukee, WI.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Seven Miles to Freedom is the story of African American Robert Smalls.
Amazon Customer
You will want to read this book to see how they tried to get away and if their plan succeeded.
VS Grenier Amazon Customer
Halfmann's version of the Smalls story is refreshingly accurate and very well written.
Kraig W. Mcnutt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I think that there may be a certain amount of thinking amongst adults like myself that we've plumbed all the heroes we could get out of the Civil War. Not a particular history buff, my vague and foggy sense of the time period (informed at intervals by Ken Burns' Civil War series) is that the heroes have long been lauded, the villains well vilified, and that there's not much else to say to kids about the time. I mean, I watched Glory in high school. I know the time period. It's a good thing that there are authors like Janet Halfmann out there who think differently from people like me. A week ago if you had walked up to me and said, "Robert Smalls. Who was he?", I'd have met you with a slow-blinking stare. Now if you walk up to me and say, "Robert Smalls. Who was he?", you're still going to get the stare, but only because I'm probably seated at a reference desk somewhere wracking my brain for context. "Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story" takes a relatively unknown hero and renders his story loud, strong, and clear. With illustrations by first-time picture book artist Duane Smith, it's the kind of book with enough innate drama to stick in the minds of its intended audience.

He was born a slave on a South Carolina plantation in 1839. At the time Robert Smalls was a favorite with his masters, the McKees, and when he was twelve they sent him to work at a hotel in Charleston along the river. From there he worked the cargo docks and then the shipyards, with the potential to someday become a wheelman.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Breeni Books on November 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Janet Halfmann's biography of the extraordinary life of Robert Smalls is a testament to the rewards that can be attained with determination and perseverance. Although Smalls was a favored servant, creating what was as close to an easy life as was possible for slaves prior to the Civil War, the young man retained his desire for freedom. The promise of becoming an independent citizen directed his life of accomplishment. He would eventually become the man who outsmarted the Confederate Army.

Smalls' most imperative quality was his patience, as it allowed him to maneuver an entire steamer past battalions of Confederate soldiers to the safety of Union gunships. The man who delivered a legion of enslaved families, including his own, to freedom would not rest once he met his goal. He continued to pilot the prize ship under Union supervision, until a heroic move landed him the title of first African-American captain of a United States vessel. Even after this honor was bestowed upon him, he returned to a life of servitude, but this time his labor would be for his community. He helped create a new constitution for his home state, South Carolina, before winning a legislative seat. He fought for African-American rights while working his way up to the rank of major general in the state militia. He served five terms in Congress.

This list of incredible accomplishments is included as an afterword in Halfmann's story. She focuses the bulk of the book on the key factors that contributed to Smalls' ability to be a community leader, meaning the moments during his initial escape to freedom via the Planter.
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Format: Hardcover
Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story is a children's picturebook based on the incredible true-life story of African-American hero Robert Smalls, who grew up a slave in South Carolina yet dreamed of being free. He patiently awaited his chance, until he was behind the wheel of the ship - at which point he seized the opportunity to steer the ship past Confederate forts in the harbor, toward the safety of the Union fleet. After his escape, Smalls would go on to become one of the Civil War's foremost heroes, and later a Congressman who fought for civil rights. An inspirational picturebook brought to life with impressive, slightly abstract painted artwork.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jane Crowner on October 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story is a well-researched and very well written story about a little-known Civil War hero. Even though the book is aimed at a young audience, it does not talk down to them, so I found it very interesting also. It has just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader turning each page. The bibliography at the end is very useful.

The pictures hit just the right note in illustrating the story.

This is an excellent book that should be added to every public and home library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story
Seven Miles is the astonishing true story of Robert Smalls, an African-American who became one of the greatest heroes of the American Civil War. Robert was born a slave on a plantation in Beaufort, South Carolina. Though he was relatively well-treated for a slave, even as a young man Smalls grew to hate everything about slavery. Sent by his master to work in Charleston, Smalls soon became a skilled pilot of a commercial steam boat, the Planter. It was in Charleston that he met his wife Hannah, another slave. When their new daughter was born into slavery, Smalls became determined that his family would one day be free. When the Civil War began, the Union fleet blockaded Charleston and suddenly the chance for his family's freedom was nearly within reach - only seven miles away. So Robert hatched a desperate and daring plan to get all of the Planter's slaves and their families away from Charleston and across the Union lines to freedom.

This book is a fascinating account not only of an astonishing incident in American history but also of an extraordinary man, who accomplished great feats despite being born into slavery. Robert Smalls was a remarkable individual not only for his own time, but for any age. He was a determined father who was willing to take any risk so that his children could grow up free. Further, he took that same resolve and fought not only for his own family but also for the families of the other slaves aboard the Planter, and ultimately for all African-Americans in South Carolina and throughout the United States. The story of Robert Smalls' life and accomplishments is not only a story about slavery and the fight for freedom, it's a story about how fatherhood can make all of us better men when we take its lessons beyond our own families and out into our communities.
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