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Lesa Cline-Ransome & James E. Ransome: Ask Why

Intermediate & Middle School Activity

Meet Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome, husband and wife team and author and illustrator of the 2018 Jane Addams Children’s Books Award Honor Title, ‘Before She Was Harriet.’ 

Read a summary of ‘Before She Was Harriet.’

A journey backward in time through the life of the woman known most often as “Harriet Tubman” emphasizes the many roles she played—suffragist, Union spy, nurse, conductor on the Underground Railroad, daughter—the many names by which she was known—General Tubman, Aunt Harriet, Moses, Minty, Araminta—and the name she chose for herself, Harriet. She “dreamed of living long enough / to one day / be old / stiff and achy / tired and worn and wrinkled / and free.” The skillful narrative’s imaginative and effective structure, in which Tubman’s life unspools from old woman back to childhood, allows the child audience to build on prior knowledge and emphasizes Harriet’s agency throughout her life. The many facets of Tubman’s life and the many roles she played are vividly portrayed in the full-page paintings that provide a rich backdrop for the fine narrative. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison, 2018

Learn More

Listen and watch as Lesa reads ‘Before She Was Harriet.’

Listen and watch Lesa share her insights about history– ‘Past Present: Giving Past Stories New Life.’

Do you wonder how a husband and wife team works together to create a picture book like ‘When She Was Harriet’? Read an interview of Lesa and James to find out! You might be surprised to learn that they don’t work as closely as you’d guess!

Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!

Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:

In her interview, Lesa says she always asks her characters, “Why?” She says that knowing the why or the motivation of a character helps her be able to tell the how, the when, and the where of their experience. Go back and listen to Lesa read Before She Was Harriet one more time. This time, pause the video when you reach each of Harriet/Minty/Araminta’s identities or roles and write down why she did what she did in that identity. For example, you might write—she was a suffragist because she wanted to speak for women who had no voice. As you list her identities and the why’s behind each, what are you noticing? Do you see a connection between her motivation and her enduring dreams and courage? How are they connected? You are welcome to share your writing and/or thoughts in our comment section (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

Turn your attention to history closer at hand! Chose an older person in your family to interview about the different identites and roles they’ve played in their lives and what motivated them in each instance. Maybe you can call a grandparent or older neighbor, but really any adult will be fine. Have them start where they are now and go back in time. For example they might say–I’m a grandma and my motivation is making sure my grandchildren feel loved. I was an office manager and my motivation was earning money for my kid’s education. Record in list form each identity and what their strongest motivation is or was. End with asking what their dreams were when they were young and what their dreams are now. What did you learn about this person? What do you want to remember from this experience as you grow and take on new identites and roles? You are welcome to share your experience and thoughts about this activity in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Jane Addams Peace Association