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The Escape of Robert Smalls

post written by Emma Filbrun

Title: The Escape of Robert Smalls
Author: Jehan Jones-Radgowski
Major Themes: Robert Smalls, Slavery, Picture Books, Civil War
Synopsis: During the American Civil War, a slave gets the idea to sail a Confederate warship out of Charleston Harbor with many other escaping slaves on board—will they make it past the blockade?

Once in awhile, I’m able to find a beautiful picture book that tells a true story from history. These are my favorite picture books, and of course, my younger children love it when I read these stories to them. We just read The Escape of Robert Smalls, and my 4-, 7-, and 9-year-olds really enjoyed it. We read half of it one evening, and then ran out of time, so they were asking me to finish it. That means it was memorable!

Robert Smalls was a slave in Charleston, South Carolina. He had been hired out by his master to work on a boat. When he realized that some people could be fooled into thinking he was the captain of the ship, he made it his business to study the way that captain stood, walked, and talked so that he could imitate him exactly. Then one night, he set a daring plan into action.

The captain decided to stay on shore for the night, leaving Robert in charge. This was his chance—he and the other black crew members managed to get their families onto the ship and they headed out to sea. Would they be able to sneak past the other Confederate ships and forts? And what would happen when they reached the Union Blockade?

This is an amazing story of bravery and daring. The tension is high until the very end, when the boat will either be left alone by the Union gunboats, or be blown out of the water. We were quite intrigued by the story, and enjoyed the full-color oil paintings very much. These pictures do a great job of showing action in a realistic way. This book is a great addition to a child’s bookshelf!

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, and these are my honest thoughts about it.

No warnings!

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9


Links to buy The Escape of Robert Smalls:

Amazon: Library Binding

AbeBooks: View Choices on

Book Depository: Hardcover


Robert Smalls, Slavery, Picture Books, Civil War

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