Journey Back to Freedom: The Olaudah Equiano Story
By Author / Illustrator
Catherine Johnson, illus Katie Hickey
Biographies & Autobiographies
Barrington Stoke Ltd
Paperback / softback
From the horrors of the slave trade to a book that changed the world, Catherine Johnson celebrates the incredible life of Olaudah Equiano in this gripping true story.
Born in what is now Nigeria in 1745, Olaudah Equiano's peaceful childhood was brought to an abrupt end when he was captured and enslaved aged 11. He spent much of the next ten years of his life at sea, seeing action in the Seven Years' War. When he was finally able to buy his freedom, he went on to become a prominent member of the abolition movement and in 1789 published one of the first books by a Black African writer. Journey Back to Freedom focuses on Equiano's early life, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit and one man's determination to be free.
Snatched from Essaka in Africa, Olaudah Equiano was captured and enslaved at the age of 11. Having spent time in Barbados and Virginia, he then spent the next eight years travelling the world as slave to a British Royal Navy officer, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa. His final master allowed him to buy his freedom for £40, which Equiano had raised through trading himself. Back in England, he eventually became a prominent member of the abolition movement, publishing his autobiography in 1789.
In Journey Back to Freedom, Catherine Johnson focuses on Equiano's early life, although she adds further information in her afterword. Well known for her excellent historical writing and attention to detail, Catherine has used Olaudah's autobiography as the basis for her work, imagining dialogue except in places where he states he is quoting from life.
This is a disturbing and emotive subject, but Catherine Johnson's concise and matter-of-fact style means it is accessible to a younger audience. The horrors of slavery are evident throughout, from Olaudah's initial capture to the barbarity of the voyage, from his life at sea to the cruelty of the West Indies, but Catherine has managed to maintain a fine balance between including this information and being overly descriptive. Throughout his sufferings, Olaudah's determination to regain his freedom is incredible and this is a book which will encourage and initiate conversations, developing children's understanding of the slave trade through Olaudah's lived experiences.
In her afterword, Catherine recognises that he was a complex character. He was against slavery yet he was involved in the trade. This moral ambiguity, the awful situations he found himself in - all of this will lead to thought-provoking, challenging discussions about this very difficult period of history. Barrington Stoke once again proving their books are for everyone! Recommended for ages 10+.
112 pages / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 11+