5th grade slavery unit, picture books on slavery, chapter books on slavery, ya on slavery

5th Grade Slavery Unit in Newton

My daughter is studying slavery and the first thing I thought of what that our town was a part of the Underground Railroad. Not our particular house (not old enough) but the Jackson Homestead in Newtonwhich is a museum and historic home on the National Underground Railroad Millennium Trail.

Slavery and The South End of Boston

Before we lived in Newton, we lived in an apartment and condominium in the South End. There was a large bronze statue of Harriet Tubman. I’d heard of her, of course, but I had no idea she lived in the South End of Boston.

Although Tubman never lived in Boston, she had links to the city through her network of abolitionist friends, one of whom opened the Harriet Tubman House as a settlement house for black women who had migrated from the South. The house has since relocated, but it still exists today as part of the United South End Settlements program. from Public Art Boston

Harriet Tubman South End Boston

image pbase

Underground Railroad in Newton, MA

I was a chaperone for a field trip a few years ago for my oldest 5th grade slavery unit, and we visited the Jackson Homestead and Museum where they showed us this shallow dry well in the basement that might have been used as a root cellar. It also hid the slaves until they could be disguised and put on a railroad to Canada. I really like that my town had liberal leanings hundreds of years ago.

Jackson Homestead, slavery, underground railroad museum

Jackson Homestead and Museum in Newton, MA

5th Grade Slavery Unit in Newton

And now slavery has come full circle in 5th grade where my daughter and her classmates are reading about Colonial America as well as reading chapter books about slaves.

Her teacher says, “We’ve discussed the use of slaves on Southern plantations and how important the slaves were economically for the south.” She asks the parents to discuss slavery with our kids by asking them questions. Some of these questions include:

What dangers did slaves face on the Underground Railroad?

What was life like for a slave?

How did people help the slaves on the Underground Railroad?

What was the Underground Railroad like?

Who helped runaway slaves?

Why were slaves willing to risk their lives to escape?

Why did people have slaves?

Is there slavery in the world today?


The questions made me think of how I could show my kids how history exists all around us. First stop, of course, would our local stop at the Jackson Homestead to see the slavery hiding place. There is also the Black Heritage Trail in Boston, which isn’t as well known as the Freedom Trail. It includes stops for The African Meeting House, George Middleton House, and more.

5th grade slavery unit

Another way to facilitate discussion would be to read more picture books, chapter book and young adult books that have slavery themes. I’ve included the books our 5th grade teachers suggest and found a few others. What are your favorite books for kids on slavery? Please share and I’ll keep adding them to this list. Thank you!


Picture Books for Kids on Slavery

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson

Clara is a slave who escapes to freedom by creating a quilt that maps the way to freedom.  [ages 5-9]

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson

This is the sequel to Sweet Clara. Traveling late one night, a runaway slave girl spies a quilt hanging outside a house. The quilt’s center is a striking deep blue — a sign that the people inside are willing to help her escape. Can she bravely navaigate the complex world of the Underground Railroad and lead her family to freedom? [ages 5-9]

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

A true story of a slave who shipped himself to freedom. [ages  4-8]

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

This is the story of Patricia Polacco’s ancestor’s who survived the Civil War due to the kindness of a black soldier and his mother, both who perished brutally during the war.  [ages 10-12]

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) by Carole Boston Weatherford

This poetic book is a resounding tribute to Tubman’s strength, humility, and devotion. With proper reverence, Weatherford and Nelson do justice to the woman who, long ago, earned over and over the name Moses.

 . . . If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma

It is hard to imagine that, once, a person in America could be “owned” by another person. But from the time the colonies were settled in the 1600s until the end of the Civil War in 1865, millions of black people were bought and sold like goods.This book answers questions children might have about this dismal era in American history.


Chapter Books for Kids on Slavery

Meet Addy: An American Girl

Addy Walker’s family is planning a dangerous escape from slavery in the summer of 1864. But before they can make the escape, the worst happens–Master Stevens decides to sell some of his slaves, including Poppa and Addy’s brother, Sam. Addy and Momma take the terrible risk of escaping by themselves, hoping that the family eventually will be together again in Philadelphia. Set during America’s own struggle over slavery, the Civil War, Addy’s story is one of great courage and love–love of family and love of freedom.

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend — two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms …

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates

Amos Fortune was born the son of an African king. In 1725, when he was 15 years old, he was captured by slave traders, brought to America and sold at auction. For 45 years, Amos worked as a slave and dreamed of freedom. At 60, he began to see those dreams come true.

Steal Away Home (Aladdin Historical Fiction) by Lois Ruby

When twelve-year-old Dana Shannon starts to strip away wallpaper in her family’s old house, she’s unprepared for the surprise that awaits her. A hidden room — containing a human skeleton! How did such a thing get there? And why was the tiny room sealed up?

With the help of a diary found in the room, Dana learns her house was once a station on the Underground Railroad. The young woman whose remains Dana discovered was Lizbet Charles, a conductor and former slave. As the scene shifts between Dana’s world and 1856, the story of the families that lived in the house unfolds. But as pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, one haunting question remains — why did Lizbet Charles die?

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Eleven-year-old Elijah lives in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves near the American border. He’s the first child in town to be born free, and he ought to be famous just for that. Unfortunately, all that most people see is a “fra-gile” boy who’s scared of snakes and talks too much. But everything changes when a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South. Now it’s up to Elijah to track down the thief–and his dangerous journey just might make a hero out of him, if only he can find the courage to get back home.


Young Adult Books on Slavery

Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson

PickyKidPix is reading Chains as her assigned book for this unit and she is loving it! She also read Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson and would highly recommend it.


Forge (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson

In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution. The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Actress Alfre Woodard performs a very moving piece from abolitionist, women’s rights proponent, and former slave Sojourner Truth that was originally delivered in 1851.

p.s. I have more books for children for Black History Month and  The Civil Rights Movement:

Ten Chapter Books for Kids on the Civil Rights Movement. This list covers many genres including picture books, chapter books, Young Adult and non-fiction.

Top 10:  African American Picture Books. If you read the 10 books in order, it covers the key periods and people in African American history through picture books.

Celebrating MLK Day with 3 Children’s Books. I selected two picture books and one chapter book to help tell the story of the impact Martin Luther King, Junior made.

As Fast As Words Could Fly: Picture Book of the Day. Ruby Bridges came to visit my elementary school and her story is contrasted with 14-year-old Mason Steele who used his typing skills both as a writer and a speed typist to prove that he had the right to attend a previously all white school.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Children’s Books. I have seven books for kids including picture books, YA, non-fiction and chapter books.

Booker T Washington: Picture Book of the Day. The story of Booker T. Washington told through an advanced picture book.

 To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book. 

5th grade slavery unit, picture books on slavery, chapter books on slavery, ya on slavery

I am an Amazon affiliate which means if you buy anything through my blog, I get a very small kickback at no cost to you. I use this money to pay for postage and handling for my giveaways.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Wow..So many great resources on the topic! I’m a fifth-grade teacher and also a musician who puts history to music. I’ve run across some of these before, but other are new and they’ll be helpful as I’m finalizing a summer program/presentation on the Underground Railroad. I’m putting final touches on songs called They Call Her Moses and Slave No More (a song about Frederick Douglass). I found that my class was also fascinated and perplexed by John Brown.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s always good to connect with fellow readers, educators, and history lovers!

  2. What a comprehensive list! I think that Amos Fortune Free Man is still my favorite.

  3. Maria Gianferrari

    I am such a HUGE fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction, especially Chains and Forge (which my 5th grade daughter is also reading for their literature circle). I’ve been anxiously awaiting the 3rd book, Ashes. I went to a book-signing for Forge a couple of years ago and she then said that it would be told in alternating viewpoints by Isabelle & Curzon.

    Some other really touching picture books are Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons (illustrated by EB Lewis!); Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson–so moving!; 50 Cents and A Dream: Young Booker T Washington by Jabari Asim, and Faith Ringgold’s amazingly illustration Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky.

    MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books are nothing short of incredible, poignant and profound, but they’re really for older teen readers. They’ll transport you to revolutionary times.

  4. I didn’t know Newton was part of the Underground Railroad! How cool!

    I love that your daughter’s teacher sends home discussion questions for parents!
    maryanne recently posted…The Big News: We’re Moving!My Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,
      It was fun to learn about the active Underground Railroad in West Newton Hills area of Newton through our Historical Society Museum at the Jackson Homestead. Yes, Newton seems to have been founded by liberals hundreds of years ago and continues to be that way.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…5th Grade Slavery Unit in NewtonMy Profile

  5. Jeanette Nyberg

    Well, it’s really cool that you live in such a historically interesting area- and these are great books to add to our reading list.
    Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Office Products are Fun and You Can Win Some!My Profile

  6. Damien Drago

    Thanks so much for that! I hope to add those two new songs to my youtube channel over the next couple of weeks (channel name is ddrago79). My song on John Brown is posted, but most of the other songs are related to the American Revolution (which I love teaching as well). If you ever get a chance to check out my CD called Powder Your Wig: Songs Inspired by the American Revolution at rockinthruhistory.com, I’d greatly appreciate it! Thanks again. So glad I ran across your blog!

  7. An important topic, indeed! These are some great book choices. Thanks for sharing at The Children’s Bookshelf, I hope you join us again when we return in September.
    Erica recently posted…Paris Books for Kids {Chapter Books}My Profile

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