Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor
Nathan Hale is extraordinary at not only bringing history to life, but also including well-researched bits of the story most people aren’t aware of. The latest entry in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series is also outstanding in another way. The Underground Abductor is the first of the stories to star a woman, Harriet Tubman.
Hale isn’t afraid to tackle difficult topics, either. The book starts with Nathan Hale’s captors — the spy, about to be hanged, has magically become aware of all history and is narrating stories to a Redcoat and the hangman — accusing him of only telling stories about how great America is. (A weird accusation, given that one of the books is about starvation and cannibalization while trying to settle the west, but a good opening.) In response, Hale tells “about someone who did her best to stop the suffering around her” in response to slavery, one of America’s “truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts!” (The books are also good for building vocabulary.)
Hale takes a unique approach to Tubman’s life, filling in much more of it than we normally see in tales of her heroic travels, rescuing slaves from the South via the Underground Railroad. He’s not shy about showing how violent slaveholders were, and how Araminta (Harriet’s birth name) suffered from their poor treatment, to the point of receiving a skull fracture, which led to narcolepsy and visions.
After just a few pages of this — and a digression to cover Nat Turner’s rebellion, to illustrate why whites were scared and brutal — the hangman asks, “Is this whole book just people beating up Minty?” There is a lot of struggle, but that makes it all the more exciting once Harriet begins her daring trips.
All of the books are single-color. This volume’s monochrome tone is purple, a great choice for a tale that occurs mostly at night, with shading to lavender and grey at other times. That symbolizes well the hard life of a slave, with little to look forward to other than more work. There’s also a brief history of the life of Frederick Douglass.
As with Hale’s other books, he does a terrific job of making history come alive. This time, it’s an unpleasant one, full of families ripped apart, but that makes Harriet’s achievements all the more powerful.