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BLAST Elementary
Night Boat to Freedom

Night Boat to Freedom
Written by Margot Theis Raven

Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

At the request of his fellow slave Granny Judith, Christmas John risks his life to take runaways across a river from Kentucky to Ohio. Night Boat to Freedom is based on slave narratives recorded in the 1930s.


Open-Ended Questions

These questions can be used during an interactive read aloud to engage student interest.

What different emotions do you think she is feeling? Why are there no words on this page? What is the illustration trying to tell us? (page 8)

What does Granny Judith mean when she says, "...what scares the head is best done with the heart?" (page 9)

Why did they have to use a password? (page 15)

How will the story end? (page 23)

Why was color so important to Granny Judith? (page 33)


Vocabulary Words

  • Feeble
  • Trembling


Slave Narratives

In the author's note, Margot Theis Raven talks about using the Slave Narrative Collection as a source of information for writing this book. This collection has over 2,000 interviews from ex-slaves who "had been children during the last years of slaver." The Slave Narrative Collection is available to view for free through the Library of Congress website. The stories are fascinating to read and give students a chance to hear the voices of people who spent part of their lives as slaves. The collection also includes photographs of the ex-slaves who were interviewed.


The Color of Freedom

In the story, Granny Judith wants to know what color each slave was wearing as they reached freedom. Ask the students to choose a color that means something special to them and discuss why that color has that meaning. It can be a very simple meaning ("I love yellow because daisies are my favorite flowers.") or it can be more complex. Encourage each student to make a work of art based around that color. When all the art projects are completed, they can be displayed together in a kind of "patchwork quilt" of everyone's special colors!


Journal Questions

  • Christmas John helped slaves excape by taking them across the river in a boat. What are some other ways slaves escaped to freedom?

Christmas John often felt scared in the story. Describe a time when you felt scared to do something.



Extending Books


Henry's Freedom Box
Written by Ellen Levine

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Henry's Freedom Box is a fictionalized account of how in 1849 a Vriginia slave, Hengry "Box" Brown, escaped to freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia.


Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky
by Faith Ringgold

With Harriet Tubman as her guide, Cassie retraces the steps escaping slaves took on the Underground Railroad in order to reunite with her younger brother.



Traveling the Freedom Road: From Slavery & the Civil War through Reconstruction

by Linda Barrett Osborne ; in association with the Library of Congress

Told through first-person accounts from slave narratives, journals, diaries, and other sources, this book is an overview of the antebellum South, the Civil War, and Recontruction, 1800 to 1877.