Queen of Freedom : Defending Jamaica by the perpetually passionate Catherine Johnson is a wonderful addition to the True Adventures series from Pushkin Press. There are several titles in this series including Bandit’s Daughter set in Ancient China, Swordswoman! : The Queen of Jhansi in the Indian Uprising of 1857 and coming soon The Black Pimpernel : Nelson Mandela on the Run.
This story is another adventure about an unsung hero set in a significant historical context. Catherine Johnson is a no stranger to historical fiction and bringing stories of those previously omitted from the history books, to a young audience. Here she tells the story of the legendary ‘wise women’ Queen Nanny, who was leader of the previously enslaved Jamaican Maroons in the 18th-century. She led the resistance to British Colonialism and paved the way for The Slave Trade Act in1807.
It is amazing quite how much has been packed in to a book of less than 200 pages. This is a well designed and very accessible series, including a map at the beginning, further details about the person who is the subject of the story at the end, along with a glossary of terms, a timeline and more about the author. There are no punches pulled in the graphic details, so don’t be fooled by the slim design of this book, it would definitely be more suitable for UKS2 and beyond. I do think it would make a varied addition to a collection of Barrington Stoke and other high-low titles that combine depth of subject matter with accessibility.
The fluidity and pace of the narrative, along with the length of this book make it an ideal read aloud text. The story immediately grabs the readers attention with a chase through the mountains, as Nanny herds her people away from the pursuing British Army (the Redcoats), who have caught two of her people stealing cows. Despite a stolen childhood and years of incarceration in the plantations, this inspirational woman was not beaten and instead rose with great courage to inspire those around her to cast off their shackles and flee a life of oppression.
Ms Dynamite (a contemporary rapper) has spoken and sung about Nanny Maroon in schools. You may like to watch the episode from Cutting Edge in which she returns to Jamaica to research Nanny, if you decide to use this story in the classroom.
Shortlisted for the Jhalek Prize 2021, Queen of Freedom : Defending Jamaica deserves a place in school collections to offer children another historical perspective and an inspirational homage to an inspirational lady: general, spiritual leader, teacher, parent. It would sit well in UKS2 classrooms alongside, Freedom (also by Catherine Johnson) and in KS3 with Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle.
Copyright: Just Imagine Story Centre Ltd 2012-2021. All rights reserved.