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Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story

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Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls StoryBy Janet Halfmann
Illustrated by Duane Smith
Lee & Low Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-1600602320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1600609862 (Softcover)

Ages 6 and up, nonfiction picture book

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Starred Review in Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review: Kirkus Reviews

Honor Book: Society of School Librarians International

Best Children's Books of the Year: Bank Street College of Education

Editor's Favorites: The Bloomsbury Review

Honor Book: Paterson Prize for Books for Young People

Land of Enchantment Book Award Masterlist: New Mexico Library Association

Beehive Book Awards Nominee: Children's Literature Association of Utah

Reading Circle Program: Missouri State Teachers Association


The Story

Growing up a slave in South Carolina, Robert Smalls always dreamed of the moment freedom would be within his grasp. Now that moment was here.

Robert stood proudly at the Planter's wheel. Only seven miles of water lay between the ship and the chance of freedom in Union territory. With precision and amazing courage, he navigated past the Confederate forts in the harbor and steered the ship toward the safety of the Union fleet. Just one miscalculation would be deadly, but for Robert, his family, and his crewmates, the risk was worth taking.

Seven Miles to Freedom is the compelling account of the daring escape of Robert Smalls, a slave steamboat wheelman who became one of the Civil War's greatest heroes. His steadfast courage in the face of adversity is an inspiring model for all who attempt to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Free Teacher/Student Guides & Crossword

Guide from the Smithsonian: Click here.
Guide from the publisher: Click here.

Crossword from the publisher: Click here.


The Story Behind the Story

I was inspired to write Seven Miles to Freedom while researching African American achievements during the Civil War. "What a gripping adventure!" I thought, as I read about how Robert Smalls stole a Confederate steamboat right from under the noses of the Confederates and delivered it to the Union Navy. I was sure young readers would be as spellbound by his daring escape to freedom as I was. And at the same time, they would learn the story of an important African American hero seldom found in history books.


  • Starred Review in Kirkus Reviews"The daring Civil War escape of a slave, his crew and their families in a stolen Confederate supply boat receives appropriately inspirational treatment in this new picture book. . . .Smith, a newcomer to picture books, sketches out scenes and characters with broad daubs of oil, creating a sculptural effect that heightens the monumental nature of Smalls's deed. Page turns and textual pacing combine to relate the actual escape with pulse-pounding excitement; readers’ relief at Smalls's success is almost physical. A triumph." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • "Spacious, impressionistic oil paintings accompany a text that describes. . .Smalls' important political role." Booklist
  • "This book is an excellent vehicle to bring [Smalls's] story to a wider audience. . . .The oil paintings employ thick, bold strokes and deep saturated colors to convey Smalls's strength and determination in successfully delivering his and his crew's family members to freedom." School Library Journal
  • "The saga is exciting, and Smith's paintings capture the story vividly, with strongly defined brush strokes, rich colors, and intense facial expressions."
    The Horn Book Guide
  • "The story is simply told with the appropriate perspective of the era and the risks taken by the participants. Dramatically illustrated, this book should find a sympathetic audience among young readers and help reestablish in public memory the existence of a remarkable person." —The Bloomsbury Review
  • "Compelling enough to read as fiction. . .the thrilling story of an extraordinary leader who risks his life for the freedom of his family and friends. The author's ability to capture the young reader's imagination in an age appropriate voice is matched by Duane Smith's dynamic illustrations." —ForeWord Magazine
  • "Seven Miles to Freedom takes a relatively unknown hero and renders his story loud, strong, and clear. With illustrations by first-time picture book artist Duane Smith, it's the kind of book with enough innate drama to stick in the minds of its intended audience. . . .A great new take on a little known true-life tale." —Fuse #8
  • "Halfmann's writing keeps readers engaged in the story and offers a good dose of suspense. . .more than just another slave escape story " — Bayviews, Association of Children’'s Librarians of Northern California
  • "The author has a nice list of sources and acknowledgments, ever more necessary as children's nonfiction is scrutinized for authority. Duane Smith's oil illustrations. . .clearly carry the story along through the frightening escape. This is another book useful for Civil War study, famous African Americans, or well written picture biographies." —Education Resource Center, University of Delaware
  • "From the moment I opened the book, I was drawn into Smalls' story, and by the time I got to the escape, I was tense and nervous and almost afraid to turn the page. . . .The story is fascinating, and I think children will truly admire Robert Smalls' courage and tenacity. They'll also appreciate learning about a Civil War hero they may have never heard of, and I'm sure teachers will also find this refreshing." —The Well-Read Child
  • "Shocker: When Robert Smalls married and had a daughter, the newborn baby did not belong to him and his wife; Robert and his wife were slaves and his child was likewise a slave. Wow. This hit me in the gut. . . .Seven Miles to Freedom is a dramatic tale of heroism and courage. The author provides a detailed list of sources for her information. The paintings are dark and tentative, reflecting the times for those enslaved." —Readerbuzz

    For more reviews, go to Lee & Low Books.

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