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My Name Is Henry Bibb

A Story of Slavery and Freedom

by Afua Cooper

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native american, united states, 19th century
list price: $16.95
published: 2009
publisher: Kids Can Press
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Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

My Name is Henry Bibb: A Story of Slavery and Freedom

Henry Bibb was born in Kentucky in 1814. He was born to an enslaved mulatto woman and a free White man but, according to the law at the time, a child born to a slave was automatically considered a slave. During his early years Henry lived on the same farm as his mother but, by the age of ten, he found himself being hired out to various slaveholders, most of whom doled out atrocious abuse. Henry became a runaway at a young age, but was always caught and returned to his owner. When Henry became a young man he met and married another slave and fathered a child. Not wanting his daughter to live the life of a slave, Henry decided to escape across the Ohio River and head north.

It is at this point that Afua Cooper ends her fictionalized story of Henry Bibb’s early life, but she reveals important historical details of Henry’s later life in the epilogue. Henry Bibb finally escaped to Detroit in 1841, and eventually to Canada in 1850. He founded The Voice of the Fugitive, Canada’s first Black newspaper, was reunited with his mother and three brothers, but sadly never saw his wife and child again.

Afua Cooper writes a moving tale detailing the early life of Henry Bibb. Reading about his early struggles and the horrors of slavery, one can plainly see how this man came to be such a strong proponent of the antislavery movement. Writing the story from Henry’s point of view as a child will hopefully help young people relate more easily to the era of slavery and all its atrocities.

Written for students in the intermediate/early senior grades, this book would be an excellent resource when discussing Black History or for history buffs in general.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2009. Vol.32 No.4.

Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

My Name Is Henry Bibb: A Story of Slavery and Freedom

Henry Bibb (1815-1854) was an author and abolitionist who started out life as a slave. His autobiography, published in 1849, made him famous in North America and Europe. This story, written in Bibb’s voice, tells of his journey to freedom. The text, based on historical facts and his writings, includes a prologue and an epilogue.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2010.

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  • Short-listed, Red Maple Award, Ontario Library Association
  • Winner, Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre
  • Winner, Applied Arts Photography & Illustration Award, Applied Arts
  • Winner, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, NCSS-CBC
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Often shocking, always compelling, Afua Cooper's novel is based on the life of Henry Bibb, an American slave who after repeated attempts escaped in 1841 to become an anti-slavery speaker, author and founder of a Black newspaper. Cooper takes painstakingly researched details about slavery and weaves an intimate story of Bibb's young life, which is overshadowed by inconceivable brutality.

At nine years old, Henry is separated from his mother and brothers and hired out, suffering abuse at the hands of cruel masters so severe he almost dies. Henry's courageous life is described in intimate detail and young readers will learn about everyday slave life on a plantation and in towns and cities, the coded language of slave escapes and the dangerous routes over land and water to safe houses.

As Henry Bibb moves from boyhood to manhood, he knows that one day he will “fly away” as in the old legend of the Africans who flew away to freedom. The first-person narrative, convincingly told in Henry's voice, traces Bibb's boyhood, marriage, fatherhood and the developing awareness of his bondage and his determination to break free of it or die.

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Editorial Review

There are many slave narratives about exciting escapes, but few tell of a young person's suffering with the close-up personal detail of this fictionalized biography.

— Booklist
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Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.

About the Author

Afua Cooper

Afua Cooper, Halifax’s seventh Poet Laureate, is the author of five books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Copper Woman and Other Poems and two novels, The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montreal, and My Name is Phillis Wheatley. She has also recorded two poetry CDs, including the forthcoming Love and Revolution. A founder of the Canadian Dub poetry movement, Afua Cooper was instrumental in organizing between 2004 and 2009, three international dub poetry festivals.

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