One day while out on a trip with her father, a young African girl is kidnapped by slave traders. In the months that follow, she makes the horrifying passage from Africa to America in the hold of a slave ship, separated from her family and surrounded by suffering. She arrives on the shores of America not as an immigrant or even as a refugee, but as cargo, bartered over and sold to a white family from Boston.
There is nothing simplified or smoothed-over about the way Wendy Lawton tells this story about the first published African-American poet Phillis Wheatley. While keeping the age of her audience in mind, she writes honestly about the grief and horror Phillis faced and reminds readers that even in this “best-case scenario,” under wealthy masters who are, for the most part, kind, understanding, and willing to teach Phillis to read and write, Phillis is still a slave. God’s mercy is evident everywhere in her story, and yet he works in spite of slavery—not in favor of it.
I have written about Lawton’s Daughters of the Faith series before, and think it worth mentioning again, because each time I read a volume, I find myself respecting more the way Wendy Lawton writes to her readers. I suspect that I may not always agree with her theological leanings, but she writes in a way that invites discussion and asks great questions of the young girls (and parents) reading her books. In this one, she shows how God brings something beautiful out of the deepest suffering, without ever glossing over or minimizing the suffering itself. Hers is an approach both honest and respectful of the story she tells.
One Last Note
I suspect that by this point in the review this is obvious, but I’ll say it extra clearly: please pre-read this one before handing it to your daughter. This is one worth reading and discussing together, but it does contain some disturbing images that might be hard for a young reader to process alone.
Freedom’s Pen: A Story Based on the Life of Freed Slave and Author Phillis Wheatley
Wendy Lawton (2009)