Gambian native. Slave. Christian. American poet. Freewoman. Phillis Wheatley was all of these. Wendy Lawton tells her story in Freedom’s Pen. Written for young girls, Freedom’s Pen carries young readers from Phillis’s life in Gambia through her capture, her misery on the slave ship, her friendship with fellow slave Obour, her purchase by the Wheatleys, and her life there until her freedom.
Phillis’s story begins in Africa with a slice of what her life might have been like. The author’s note explains that Phillis mentioned her life in Africa only three times in her writing so little is known of what it was actually like.
The author describes enough of the slave ship environment for girls to know that it was horrid and evil without being graphic.
Lawton chronicles Phillis’s unusual relationship to the Wheatley family as not quite slave and not quite family as Susannah Wheatley tried to help others realize that Africans were human by showing that they could learn if given a chance. Lawton also shows the difficult and lonely position this place Phillis in as other slaves reject and resent her. Phillis attempts to apply scriptures such as “Love your enemies… and pray for them that despitefully use you” to a fictional relationship with a hostile fellow slave. (Matthew 5:44)
Freedom’s Pen is well written, moving, and enjoyable. From a biblical viewpoint, it introduces young readers to a historical character who achieved great things in her short life. My nine-year-old daughter loved reading it and having me read it to her after she read it. She had no trouble with the vocabulary or with the descriptions of life on shipboard. I am considering purchasing other books in this series because of this one.
This review was originally published at ChristianBookPreviews.com
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