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Seven Miles to Freedom:

The Robert Smalls Story

By Janet Halfmann

Illustrated by Duane Smith

Lee & Low Books

Ages 6+, Picture Book, softcover

Buy this book at your favorite indie bookseller, Bookshop, or

JANET TAKES YOU INSIDE THE BOOK! Click here for the video.



Best Children's Books of the Year: Bank Street College of Education

Honor Book: Society of School Librarians International

Honor Book: 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People

Starred Review: Kirkus Reviews

Editor's Favorites: The Bloomsbury Review

Land of Enchantment Masterlist: New Mexico Library Association

Beehive Book Awards Nominee: Children's Literature Association of Utah

Reading Circle Program: Missouri State Teachers Association


The Story

Seven Miles to Freedom tells the story of Robert Smalls, the enslaved wheelman of a cotton boat turned Confederate gunboat, named the Planter. Smalls, with the rest of the enslaved crew, stole the ship right from under the noses of the Confederates. With the crew's families hidden below deck and Robert disguised as the captain, the ship steamed past several forts in Charleston Harbor, giving the correct signals. At the harbor's entrance seven miles away, the group found freedom within Union lines. 

My Inspiration

I was inspired to write Seven Miles to Freedom while researching African American achievements during the Civvil War. "What a gripping adventure!" I thought, as I read about how Robert Smalls stole a Confederate steamboat right from under the noses of the Confederates and delivered it to the Union Navy. I was sure young readers would be as spellbound by his daring escape to freedom as I was. And at the same time, they would learn the story of an important African American hero seldom found in history books.

Educational Connections

Links to a FREE Teacher's Guide created by Lee & Low Books, a FREE Reading Guide and activities created by the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and a crossword puzzle, all at Lee & Low Books

Afterword and Author's Sources at end of book

Interview with Janet: Express Milwaukee

Interview with Janet: Kidlit Central News

Interview with Illustrator Duane Smith: The Brown Bookshelf


"The daring Civil War escape of a slave, his crew and their families in a stolen Confederate supply boat receives appropriately inspirational treatment in this new picture book . . . Smith, a newcomer to picture books, sketches out scenes and characters with broad daubs of oil, creating a sculptural effect that heightens the monumental nature of Smalls's deed. Page turns and textual pacing combine to relate the actual escape with pulse-pounding excitement; readers' relief at Smalls's success is almost physical. A triumph."—Kirkus Reviews 

"This book is an excellent vehicle to bring [Smalls's] story to a wider audience . . . . The oil paintings employ thick, bold strokes and deep saturated colors to convey Smalls's strength and determination in successfully delivering his and his crew's family members to freedom."—Publishers Weekly

Seven Miles to Freedom book cover
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