Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of the new children's picture book Before She Was Harriet, which is about Harriet Tubman. Cline-Ransome's many other books for kids include Just a Lucky So and So and Words Set Me Free. She lives in the Hudson River Valley region of New York.
Q: Why did you decide to write Before She Was Harriet, and how did you decide on the structure of the book?
A: Harriet Tubman has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember but when my husband and illustrator, James, approached me with the idea of writing a story about her life, I was filled with absolute dread.
In part because so many authors, including Alan Schroeder (Minty) and Carole Boston Weatherford (Moses) have told her story so beautifully, I wondered what I could add.
But when James began telling me about his research and the many different lives she lived, I decided to see if I could add my own perspective on her life.
Telling the story in reverse chronological order allowed the reader to see her as she once saw herself, as young and vibrant, and even showed that though her physical body had experienced a great deal of change, her will, her dreams and her hope, had not dimmed.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write this, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: Because I had written books about Frederick Douglass and slavery in the past, I had of course, come across research on Harriet, much of it focused on her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
James' research revealed other facets of her life that I hadn't read much about including her life as a Union spy, suffragist, general and nurse.
By adding those roles in this book, I think it gives a broader picture of Harriet and provides a more detailed picture of a life dedicated to service. I never knew that when she escaped, she left behind her name Araminta, and took her mother's name Harriet.
Q: What do you think your husband James Ransome's illustrations add to the book?
A: James works in a variety of mediums--oils, acrylics, pastels, and even collage. With his use of watercolor in this book, I feel he did a brilliant job of capturing Harriet's strength and passion but also her vulnerability and hope.
Q: What do you hope young readers take away from Harriet Tubman's story?
A: I think Harriet's life serves as a reminder that one voice and one life can impact the lives of many.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am completing the revisions for a collection of stories about 20 female athletes from the 1800s through the 2000s who broke down barriers in sports.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have a new picture book coming about Venus and Serena Williams, and my first middle grade novel, entitled Finding Langston, is releasing in May.
It is the story of a young boy who migrated to Chicago from Alabama in the 1940s after the death of his mother. He feels lost and alone in the city until he stumbles upon a library and there, in the stacks, finds strength, courage and a sense of home in the works of Langston Hughes.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lesa Cline-Ransome.