Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: OVERGROUND RAILROAD by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Emily Mroczek-Bayci
The Underground Railroad is common knowledge in most elementary school curriculum and there are dozens, possibly even hundreds of books about it. As Author Lesa-Cline Ransome states, this is not so true for the OVERGROUND RAILROAD, the railway system that carried millions of blacks North during the Great Migration.
What makes Cline-Ransome’s writing distinguished is how much imagery, emotion and characterization she can pack into 36 pages. It takes truly special writing to get a Newbery contender out of a picture book and Lesa Cline-Ransome accomplishes that. OVERGROUND RAILROAD has the potential to join the ranks of CROWN, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, and THE UNDEFEATED..
The pacing of the OVERGROUND RAILROAD mirrors the long journey north- with mood and thoughts changing at every stop when the conductor shouts, “Next Stop Rocky Mount!” or… Baltimore, Maryland, or Alexandria, Virginia. The spacing of the words amplifies the books steady rhythm.
Lesa Cline-Ransome clearly paints the setting on the train, where pictures are barely necessary, especially the section when the whites only signs are removed, but that does not end the racism:
We walk past
row after row
of white folks
who stare or turn away
with eyes that say
when they see us
some put hands in empty seats
and we keep walking
until we find
from new neighbors.
Every word makes an impact and the lyrical language and free-verse text conveys the thought process of people moving during the Great Migration and how the North was idolized using
and New York City
The Promised Land.
Strong writing, presentation and setting make OVERGROUND RAILROAD a true Newbery contender.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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