Freedom (1783)

Author: Catherine Johnson

Written for children in UKS2+ (9 – 12+) this book effectively manages the balance between authentically telling a complex and harrowing story whilst being appropriate for the age of the intended audience. It’s no wonder it won the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award 2019 – following its publication by Scholastic in August 2018.

This is a short book that is packed with detail, character, story and emotion – I was gripped from the first page. It tells the story of a young boy, called Nat, during the height of the slave trade.

When Nat’s mum and baby sister are sold, from the plantation where they work, he quickly becomes the only slave who is not hoping to be sent to England on an upcoming voyage with the master. Instead, he longs to be reunited with his family again. This is Nat’s sole wish throughout the story and through all the challenges he faces, the thought of his family and their collective freedom, is what keeps him going.

Nat does get sent to England and, to his dismay, finds that things are not what he had hoped or dreamed they would be – for himself or society as a whole. He is told about the murders of over 130 men, women and children who were thrown overboard from a ship, carrying slaves, called the Zong. Alongside the horrors there is hope; Nat meets some very kind and generous strangers who help him along his journey (even if that involves hiding in manure at one point!)

I enjoyed this story and appreciated the empathy and honesty Catherine has written with. Nat is a fictional character but Catherine has used a significant amount of research and historical accuracy to inform the story overall. This is an emotive, adventure-packed and enjoyable read that will introduce young readers to a difficult and important subject.