Harriet Tubman is the face of the best in the worst of our history. She is a model for who we want our students to be: courageous in the face of adversity, relentless in the search for freedom, and devoted to helping others. Sadly, we know her story because she had those virtues in the worst of times.
The atrocities of slavery cannot be swept under the carpet or ignored because it hurts to acknowledge the the facts.
Teaching our youngest learners about American Heroes like Harriet Tubman can be tricky. Her life, along with all those who were enslaved, was full of pain and fear. Navigating the language and basic vocabulary of the time for our youngest learners can be difficult. Using “fun” activities like word searches or quilt addition facts is not meant to diminish their pain, fear, and heartbreak. It is merely to have student interact with words and concepts at an introductory level.
Books about Harriet Tubman
There are many books about the life of Harriet Tubman. Non-fiction books. Historical fiction books. Realistic fiction books. Books based on stories and personal accounts of events that can’t necessarily be verified or authenticated. I have chosen 5 books to highlight, but there are many more. I am also listing any possible objectionable language or details that my need explanation or to be tempered. The listing may not include all the possible objections, but a thought-provoking starting point.
Before She was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome is quite possibly one of my favorite books. It is unique in that it tells the timeline of Harriet’s life in reverse order. It’s powerful to trace her timeline from hero to her roots on the plantation. The illustrations are equally beautiful. Possible objections: a slave owner “punished her with lashes.”
An Apple for Harriet Tubman by Glennette Tilly Turner is a poignant story of Harriet picking apples for her owner but not being able to eat any. She takes a risk and bites into an apple and is punished. To Harriet, apples meant freedom. It’s such a simple view of freedom that all students can likely understand. The story creates a real-life connection to Harriet’s final home in New York which did, in fact, have apple trees. Possible objections: when Harriet was caught tasting an apple, the slave owner used a whip that “tore into her flesh.”
The Story of Harriet Tubman by Christine Platt is an early reader chapter book. This book contains stories, timelines, myths v thruths, and a quiz at the end. Possible objections: after stealing a sugar cube, Harriet was “beaten so badly she almost died.”
Harriet Tubman, Freedom Fighter by Nadia Hohn is an I Can Read Level 2 book. The details are written in a simpler text, but the details are still accurate. Possible objections: Harriet’s sister was sold, “Minty was whipped” when the baby she was watching cried, and if runaway slaves were discovered and sent back to plantations, they could be “hurt or killed.”
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold is a lovely modern-day story of Cassie and Bebe (who we met previously in Ringgold’s Tar Beach) are learning about the Underground Railroad. After her brother catches a ride on the train, Cassie must follow the Underground Railroad assisted by Harriet. She meets up with her brother in the freedom of the north. Possible objections: people who tried to escape could have “a foot cut off” if they were discovered and returned to their owners.
Activities to Learn About Harriet Tubman
Creating activities for young learners to meet Harriet Tubman are introductory, at best. Using vocabulary introduced and explored in books and videos about Harriet Tubman. I found a fantastic BrainPopJr on you tube about Harriet Tubman.
The ABC’s of Harriet Tubman
I have made an alphabet of Harriet Tubman’s life using vocabulary, places and events in her life. The ABC’s can be used as an introduction or a growing chart. The letters can be cut apart and passed out to the students.
After reading and coloring their letter, the alphabet can be put up on display in the classroom as those words are found in books and lessons. (I am not proposing the letters are out of order, but simply put up out of order…leaving room for missing letters).
The ABC’s can also be used as a class book. While making the book, I included two strips for the letter X. I took some liberties with the letter and “X” stands for eXpedition. Harriet was the only woman to lead a military eXpedition during the Civil War. The first illustration includes Harriet with a gun, the second does not. You can decide what is right for your students.
Harriet Tubman: Timelines and Other Activities
I have created two timelines of Harriet Tubman’s life. One is a 5-panel timeline with pictures and tracing lines for key vocabulary. This is geared toward our kindergarten learners.
The second timeline is a 9-panel timeline with more details and illustrations. This can be used as an individual task (although this timeline contains 4 pages of paper) or a class project.
Not every event in Harriet’s life can be depicted, but both timelines are accurate.
Other activities include vocabulary sheets (beginning sound matches, ABC order, syllable sorts, word sorts, and word searches) and Underground Railroad Math Quilts where shapes are colored according to their sum. I have created a sample of these math quilts as a freebie. Make sure you fill the form below to get it.
Finally, The Facts about harriet tubman
This is another tricky part of teaching any long ago history lesson. Little of Harriet’s life was officially documented through words and pictures until later in life.
As a matter of fact, the earliest picture of Harriet was taken after she was a free woman in the north. As such, the “facts” can be muddied by time and telling.
Many of the facts about Harriet have been challenged and researched. We may not be able to know exactly how many trips she took to return and help others flee to freedom.
Sources can list 13 trips, 19 trips and 21 trips.
We also can’t know exactly how many people she helped. Some sources list 70, some list 300. What we do know for a fact is that she made MANY trips and helped MANY people.
If you are interested in the set Harriet Tubman: An Introduction to an American Hero, check out the link.
I also include Harriet Tubman in my 4 Square Writing Templates for Special People in Black History.
I hope this gives you ideas for sharing a true admiration of Harriet Tubman. She is truly the best in the worst of times.
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