In an elegant, light-touch manner To Liberty! immerses the reader into the 1700s, the birth of the French Republic and France’s involvement in the slave trade of present-day Haiti. Through the eyes of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte, we see the horrors of people traded as commodities as well as the excesses of the French aristocracy.
To Liberty! is an example of historical fiction which will lure children into the genre. Catherine Johnson’s eye for detail and skill at placing the reader in the shoes of the protagonists means that the reader is invested in the protagonist, his trials and tribulations. The author is a gifted storyteller, who manages with authentic dialogue to bring complex historical events alive for the middle-grade reader.
This text would work well as an Upper Key Stage Two read aloud, although historical context would need to be pre-taught. A copy should also be available in every primary school library for fans of historical fiction, as should copies of Johnson’s other work such as Freedom, Race To The Frozen North and Sawbones. Finally, it should be in secondary school libraries too as schools actively attempt to broaden the range of books available to their readers.
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