Frederick's Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass (Big Words)

by Doreen Rappaport (Author) London Ladd (Illustrator)

Frederick's Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass (Big Words)
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
Series: Big Words

Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He was taken from his mother as a baby, and separated from his grandparents when he was six. He suffered hunger and abuse, but miraculously, he learned how to read. Frederick read newspapers left in the street, and secretly collected spellings from neighborhood children. Words, he knew, would set him free.

When Frederick was twenty, he escaped to the North, where he spread his abolitionist beliefs through newspaper articles, autobiographies, and speeches. He believed that all people-regardless of color or gender-were entitled to equal rights. It is Douglass's words, as well as his life, that still provide hope and inspiration across generations.

In this installment of the critically acclaimed Big Words series, Doreen Rappaport captures Frederick's journey from boy to man, from slavery to freedom, by weaving Frederick's powerful words with her own. London Ladd's strong and evocative illustrations combine with the text to create a moving portrait of an extraordinary life.

Praise for the Big Words series:

Martin's Big Words

  • 2002 Caldecott Honor Book
  • 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
  • Child Magazine Best Book of 2001
  • New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2001
  • "A stunning, reverent tribute." -School Library Journal, starred review

Abe's Honest Words

  • "Exceptional art, along with Rappaport's and Lincoln's words, makes this a fine celebration of a man who needs little introduction." -Booklist, starred review

Eleanor, Quiet No More

  • "Once again Rappaport celebrates a noble, heroic life in powerful, succinct prose, with prominent, well-chosen, and judiciously placed quotes that both instruct and inspire...Celebrate women in history and in politics with this picture-book life." -School Library Journal, starred review

Helen's Big World

  • "Stirring and awe-inspiring." -The Horn Book, starred review

To Dare Mighty Things

  • "[T]his lavish picture-book biography deftly captures the legendary man's bold, exuberant nature. . . . A truly inspiring tribute to a seemingly larger-than-life U.S. president." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • "Theodore Roosevelt's big ideas and big personality come together in this splendid picture-book biography." -Booklist, starred review
  • "Concisely written and yet poetic, this is a first purchase for every library." -School Library Journal, starred review
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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

School Library Journal

Gr 3-5--Frederick Douglass's journey from slavery to international renown as writer and lecturer is broadly sketched here. Readers meet Douglass eye to eye as he gazes, serious and frowning, from a commanding portrait filling the entire front cover of the large square picture book. An unusual design choice places the title and creator names in bold text on the back cover. The poignant childhood years, some enjoyed and others endured, make for a touching, memorable story. About a third of the work is devoted to Douglass's adulthood. Emphasizing his role as a man of words, Rappaport includes frequent quotations. She focuses on Douglass's oratory and writing accomplishments but tells almost nothing of the man's personal life. In a rare specific example when she does, readers learn that Douglass's friends bought his freedom for $710.96. He went on to lecture in Great Britain and Ireland, started a newspaper, became friendly with Abraham Lincoln, and was involved with the Underground Railroad. Although the book features a concluding list of "Important Dates," Rappaport often neglects to mention where and when key events occurred: overall, this is a quick introduction accompanied by some striking visuals. Ladd casts a sepia glow in handsome scenes of key figures, and his illustrator's note adds a fun light on his painting of them. The many existing children's books about Douglass include works by well-known writers, some of which are included in the "Selected Research Sources" section. VERDICT Eloquent in part--though a bit skimpy, too--this is an attractive and versatile package.--Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

Copyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes


* 2002 Caldecott Honor Book
* 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
* Child Magazine Best Book of 2001
* New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2001
Doreen Rappaport
Doreen Rappaport has written numerous award-winning books for children, including Freedom Ship and The School Is Not White (both illustrated by Curtis James); Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book illustrated by Bryan Collier; and John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon, also illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Kadir Nelson is the illustrator of many books for children, including Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, an NAACP Image Award winner, a Caldecott Honor Book, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner; Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner; Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee; and Will Smith's Just the Two of Us, also an NAACP Image Award winner. He is also the author/illustrator of We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
November 20, 2015
Big Words
BISAC categories
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF025200 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/19th Century
JNF007110 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Social Activists
JNF007020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Historical
Library of Congress categories
United States
Douglass, Frederick
African American abolitionists
Antislavery movements

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