HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Freedom Stairs: The Story of Adam Lowry Rankin, Underground Railroad Conductor
Author: Marilyn Weymouth Seguin
Publisher: Branden Books, 2014
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 8 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Category: Historical fiction
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Seguin, Marilyn Weymouth. The Freedom Stairs: The Story of Adam Lowry Rankin, Underground Railroad Conductor (Published in 2014 by Branden Books, a division of Branden Publishing Company, P. O. Box 812094, Wellesley, MA 02482). It is 1832, and sixteen year old Adam Lowry Rankin, the oldest of thirteen children, lives with his Presbyterian minister father John Rankin, his mother Jean Lowry Rankin, and his siblings, in a house called Liberty Hill on a high bluff overlooking Ripley, OH, the Ohio River, and the opposite shore of slave state Kentucky. John is a fiery anti-slavery preacher, and Lowry, as he is called, along with his two oldest brothers Calvin and David, help his parents hide and transport fugitive slaves on the “Underground Railroad.” They even build a set of stone steps leading up the steep slope to their home for escaping slaves to use, which becomes known as “the freedom stairs.”
However, it is against the law to help runaway slaves. Do the Rankins ever get caught? If they are found out, what will happen to them? And how can Lowry respond when he is asked by pursuing slave catchers why he is out alone in the dark while driving a wagon that is hiding several souls in it? When I was an eighth grader (1967-1968), we studied about John Rankin in Ohio History. Then, when we were homeschooling our boys, we visited the John Rankin House in Ripley, OH, and walked on the freedom stairs. My only complaint with this book is that once each an escaping slave uses the “h” word, a slave catcher uses the “d” word, and a slave trader calls his slaves “black sons of bit*hes.” I don’t know if Lowry recorded any kind of conversation like this in his memoirs or not.
That may not seem like too much bad language to many folks, but I question the wisdom of having any kind of language like that in a story intended for 8-12 year olds. However, I guess that I’m not really surprised that an author who is a teacher in the English Department at Kent State University considers it appropriate in something marketed to middle grade school students. Otherwise, it is a great book that tells an important story. Seguin relied on Lowry Rankin’s autobiography to relay the account of this Ohio family’s role in the Underground Railroad as they helped more than 2,000 slaves to freedom. One of their fugitives was the inspiration for Eliza in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Another really good historical fiction novel based on the life of Lowry Rankin is Across the Wide River by Stephanie Reed.