Before She Was Harriet

Before She Was Harriet
Written by Lesa Cline-Ranson, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Publisher’s Summary:
Who was Harriet Tubman before she was Harriet? We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. As Araminta she was a young girl whose father showed her the stars and the first steps on the path to freedom.

Primary Source Pairing:
In a powerful book where the text and illustrations work together to tell the story of Harriet Tubman, the focus lies on how Harriet’s childhood formed her into who she became as an adult. It is important for young readers to learn about the childhoods of historical figures, and this book does it beautifully. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of Harriet Tubman taken sometime between 1860 and 1870. The photograph includes the following description.

Photograph shows Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) seated in an interior room, turned to the left. One hand rests on the back of a wooden chair, another rests in her lap. A patterned carpet covers the floor and the wall or drop behind her is a blank light color. Tubman wears a dark bodice that buttons at the center front and has dropped sleeves with heavy ruching and ruffled details on the sleeves. There is a panel of lighter fabric around the yoke, with the upper neck the same dark color as the body of the bodice. A lace collar with short tails is crossed and pinned at the front of her neck. Her hair is parted at the center and gathered at the nape of her neck. Tubman’s full skirt is made from a light and dark patterned gingham check.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • Find something small but interesting.
  • What’s happening in the image
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged?
  • What is the physical setting?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • Make a connection to what you read in the book Before She Was Harriet and what you see in this photograph.
  • What questions do you still have?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Photograph of Harriet Tubman: Library of Congress