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Starred review from Publishers Weekly:
Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence
Gretchen Woelfle, illus. by Alix Delinois. Lerner/Carolrhoda, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7613-6589-1
A slave named Mumbet, who successfully sued for her own freedom in 1781 Massachusetts, is the subject of this powerfully told biography. Suffering under a cruel mistress, Mumbet seeks solace in the freely running rivers of the landscape and in her own mind. Woelfle draws clear parallels between the Massachusetts colonists’ discontent and the freedom Mumbet craves: “ ‘The King means to take away our rights!’ one man shouted. Do I have rights? wondered Mumbet.”
Delinois’s thick layers of paint and vibrant palette infuse even the story’s upsetting moments with hopefulness, and Mumbet herself glows with determination and integrity. An author’s note addresses how many details of Mumbet’s life were lost to history, yet her story stands as a potent reminder that the freedoms that accompanied the American Revolution left many behind. Ages 6–10.
from the New York Times Book Review:
“Mumbet didn’t have a last name because she was a slave.” So begins Gretchen Woelfle’s “Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence,” which tells the story of a remarkable figure in American colonial history. Known as Bett or Betty, although some children “fondly called her Mom Bett or Mumbet,” she successfully sued her owner, John Ashley, “the richest man in Berkshire County, Mass.,” for her emancipation, and once liberated chose to name herself Elizabeth Freeman.
Alix Delinois’s illustrations beautifully balance the intensity of this history lesson. The opening pages feature seven portraits of Mumbet in different states of thought and emotion. Pensive, determined and graceful, she wears a white bonnet (outlined by bright reds and yellows) in poses that highlight the complex and dynamic human being she must have been. Having overheard discussions of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which states that “All men are born free and equal,” Mumbet enlists the help of an attorney, Theodore Sedgwick (father of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, who would later record Mumbet’s story), to challenge her enslavement. “I am not a dumb creature,” Mumbet says. “I deserve my freedom.” Two years after she brought her case, a judge declared slavery illegal in the state of Massachusetts, which in turn led to the freeing of 5,000 slaves.
Woelfle’s narrative skillfully keeps Mumbet at center, focusing on Mumbet’s struggles against her mistress, Mrs. Ashley, who did not have the right to own property yet “owned the sharpest tongue in town.” Her verbal and physical cruelty toward Mumbet and Mumbet’s daughter, Lizzy, challenges the common belief that white women were passive spectators of slavery’s violence and the sentimental allies of slaves. Mumbet, a protective mother, is so eager for her own and her daughter’s freedom that she uses the Revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric to declare their independence. Woelfle’s narrative and her appended notes and references offer opportunities for discussing nuances in the history of American slavery.
I’m Gretchen Woelfle (that’s Wolf-lee) and I'm a children's author. I've written picture books, short stories, essays, novels, biographies, and environmental books.
I write about things I want to know more about – and things I already know and love.
Sometimes those are memories…
sometimes it’s what I see around me…
sometimes I write about events that happened long ago…
and sometimes I make it all up!
Writing is a solitary business. Most days I work at home with my calico cat, Chelsea FC, lying beside me. Some days I go to schools to talk to the children I write for. It tickles my fancy to be a celebrity for a day!
I love to travel around the world looking for stories. I've lived high in the Himalayas and on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. I've also found stories in Holland, England, Bolivia, and right in my own backyard.
Let me hear from you. Email is best: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ten Quick Facts About Me
1. I have two cats: LV (Little Voice,) and Chelsea FC.
2. Chelsea looks just like Katje, the Windmill Cat.
3. I once lived in a little grass hut on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I'm writing a novel about it now.
4. I've got a miniature farm at my home in Los Angeles, California, with seven fruit trees, three kinds of berries, lots of vegetables, and a tree drooping with dozens of avocados.
5. My front garden dazzles with golden California poppies every spring.
6. My son and daughter don't think much of my singing voice, but I love singing in a choir anyway.
7. I like to go boogieboarding in the Pacific Ocean.
8. My favorite sport is soccer (English football) and my favorite team is Chelsea Football Club.
9. If I come to visit your school, you can help me act out my books with props, costumes, and songs. I promise to sing quietly.
10. My advice to young writers and artists - Do it! And have fun doing it.
Watch this trailer to hear about some of Kit's adventures in Will Shakespeare's Theatre. And then read them all in All the World's A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts.