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

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God
I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God
Through Bible stories, short devotions, and prayers, children discover the meaning of each name and how it relates to their lives. Hardcover

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

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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #496,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Janet Halfmann (http://www.janethalfmann.com) 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 Animal Teachers; 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; Fur and Feathers; Little Skink's Tail; and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. Janet has written forty 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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 Verified Purchase
I recall reading biographies of Jacques Cartier, John Paul Jones, and Davy Crockett when I was in the 4th grade. These stories took my imagination along great paths of discovery and ignited a love for history for me.

I wish I could have read Halfmann's version (Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story) of the Robert Smalls (1839-1915) story of escaping from the Confederacy during the Civil War when I was 10 or 11. It would have fired my imagination and interest in the American Civil War much earlier.

Halfmann's version of the Smalls story is refreshingly accurate and very well written. The text moves along at a good pace. Unlike Kennedy's new book on Smalls (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s American Heroes: Robert Smalls, the Boat Thief), Halfmann is faithful to the true story in what she covers and what she has to omit for a children's audience.

A real surprise is the bibliography in the back of Halfmann's book which will serve the curious teacher and student well.

I would add one book to the reading list (for the teacher) that Halfmann does not cite as a source for her book: Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families, by Andrew Billingsley.

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story book should be in every elementary school library in the United States.
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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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