Underground Abductor   
In this fifth volume, Nathan Hale continues his series of wonderful and engaging tales from American history, this time about Harriet Tubman, in The Underground Abductor. Hale’s Hazardous Tales are stories told by the 1770’s spy Nathan Hale (confusingly, the same name as the author’s). Hale is supposed to be executed, but keeps managing to put off his execution by telling a British soldier and the hangman stories from American history, thereby distracting them from their task. Even though it’s impossible that Hale, in the 1770’s, would know what would happen in the future with Harriet Tubman, he does know, and he tells a wonderful story.

Hale does not try to paint slavery in a neutral way. He states that this tale is from a dark period in American history and does not shy away from telling about how Harriet Tubman, known as Araminta as a child, was regularly beaten and punished. But at the same time, Hale does not linger over the horrors. They are presented factually, as one of many experiences that shaped Tubman’s life. It helps that the hangman and the soldier interrupt with comments every so often. It breaks the tension and also give expression to what readers are probably thinking themselves.

Hale does a great job of putting the story in context without getting the story bogged down in too much extraneous context. He keeps the focus squarely on Harriet Tubman. The characters listening to the story only pop in to make comments or otherwise help move the story along. For example: Tubman had narcolepsy and said she had visions. But we can’t actually know what she saw. So Hale has one of his character’s demand to see the visions and then has his narrator explain that these are complete conjecture but he’ll do it anyway to make the story flow. In this way he can both explain why and what he is showing of the story but also keep the story flowing.

I didn’t know a lot about Harriet Tubman before I read this story and I learned a lot, but it was so interesting, I barely noticed I was ‘learning’. The pacing is quite good, considering that Hale is telling the story of a whole life—and a lot happened in that life. The story is dense, but not packed. It was just a really interesting story told in a way that let me take in the information without feeling intensely uncomfortable with the topic of slavery, which is what you want in a kids book.

Hale’s drawings are very clear and expressive. Even when he gives a side story of a mini tale of Frederick Douglas, drawn extra small, it is still easy to read the comic. This stand-alone volume may be his best one yet.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, vol. 5: The Underground Abductor
by Nathan Hale
ISBN: 9781419715365
Harry N. Abrams, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14 years

  • Emma Weiler

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support!

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