book review: My Name is Henry Bibb

FC9781553378136title: My Name is Henry Bibb: A story of slavery and freedom
by: Afua Cooper
date: Kids Can Press, 2009
main character: Henry Bibb
middle grade biography



The light hurt my eyes so I kept them closed. I was drowsy, lulled by my mother’s cooing and the warmth of her body. Then I heard her say, “Listen, little one I have a story to tell you.” I suddenly grew alert. “You are as beautiful as the sun.” Then she began, in a sad but sweet voice.”

My Name is Henry Bibb is a biography of Henry Bibb, a black man who escaped slavery in Kentucky and found freedom in Canada. By devoting his live to the freedom of others, he has a become a significant figure in Afro Canadian history. Bibb authored his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave in 1849.

Afua Cooper’s biography begins with Bibb’s birth and takes us up to his escape to Canada. Her epilogue describes Bibb’s later years but nowhere does she cite her sources. Bibbs was the subject of her dissertation. Cooper is recognized for her poetry and her skill to say more with fewer words is made evident in this book.

Cooper never relates that Bibb is the son of Kentucky state senator James Bibb, she lets this be Henry’s story. His mother planted the seed of freedom early when she spoke of Africans walking on water, telling Henry that so much more was within him. Through the character Shadrach, readers find that escape can be mental or physical. Henry performed many acts of resistance but he could not continue to survive under the conditions imposed upon him.

By not straying from the daily beatings and struggles  that Henry faced, Cooper leads the reader to understand that running away from his enslavement was the only option for him. Only freedom will bring him the peace he needs.

Cooper’s writing allows readers to begin to understand the complexities of enslavement and how black men and women, particularly Henry Bibb, fought against it.

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