All the Things

A blog by Holly Papa.

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann, Illustrated by Duane Smith

by | Mar 4, 2009 | Blog | 6 comments

sevenmilestofreedomI first fell in love with the story of Robert Smalls while watching a PBS documentary called Slavery and the Making of America. I loved his story and was thrilled to learn that Janet Halfmann had turned his story into a picture book. I enjoy collecting picture books that teach history so this was one of the top one’s I wanted read especially since I taught U.S. History.

From the inside cover

Robert stood proudly at the Planter’s wheel. Only seven miles of water lay between the ship and the chance of freedom in the Union territory. With precision and amazing courage, he navigated past the Confederate forts in the harbor and steered the ship toward safety of the Union fleet.

The meticulously researched book does an excellent job chronicling Smalls life from birth to his training as a wheelman and eventual escape with fellow crewmen and their loved ones aboard the Planter. Seven Miles to Freedom is a fascinating story of adventure and bravery that will keep you turning page after page. Duane Smith’s illustrations are well done, though not in a style that I am fond of, but they do compliment the text well.

I really enjoyed the afterword and learning about his role as a congressman. Robert Smalls helped write the constitution for South Carolina after the Civil War, which unfortunately was later replaced by a less democratic one as reconstruction ended. He continued to push for education and spoke out against unjust laws on behalf of African Americans and women.

I highly recommend this book for history buffs and anyone interested in a true story of bravery and courage. In 2004 the US army commissioned a ship, Major General Robert Smalls. The ceremony was attended by some of his descendants.

Duane Smith’s website.

Robert Smalls is an excellent example of bravey as he risked his life to obtain the freedom he so badly wanted and deserved. What are some of your favorite historical characters who demonstrated bravery for you?


  1. Nancy

    I adore Faith Ringgold’s, Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, about the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman. And this story about Robert Smalls seems really interesting as does that PBS special.

  2. caribookscoops

    Nancy – That sounds like a great read. Harriet Tubman is such a hero for me. Both the PBS special and Robert Smalls are worth checking out.

  3. Steven at Book Dads

    We reviewed this book at Book Dads and thought it was great and we both loved the artwork but feel somewhat unqualified to comment on art. I did not understand some of the negative comments I was reading on some other sites about the illustrations.

    We did not know about the documentary, we’ll have to check it out. Thank you.

  4. Janet Halfmann

    Cari, thank you so much for your wonderful review of my book, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. I agree that the PBS special was fascinating. The story of Robert Smalls is truly an inspirational one for all of us!

  5. caribookscoops

    Steven – Glad to hear you both like the illustrations. I’m no art expert either, I just didn’t like the style of the art with the text. Funny thing is I generally like that style (whatever it’s called), just wasn’t fond of it for this book. Great story though!

    Janet! – Thanks for stopping by and I’m so glad you wrote Robert Smalls story into a picture book.

  6. hollybookscoops

    I finally got to read this book, and I loved it! Thanks for the great recommendation! It really does read like a fiction book. I didn’t realize how many other people Robert Smalls helped to escape. That was a great surprise!


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