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Children's Nonfiction 19th Century

Working for Freedom

The Story of Josiah Henson

by (author) Rona Arato

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Jan 2009
19th Century, Cultural Heritage, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2009
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jan 2009
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Josiah Hensons life is an epic tale of one mans battle against evil and ignorance. By the time he was six, Josiah had been sold three times. When he was nine, his familys owner beat him for trying to learn to read. In spite of his physical pain and emotional heartache, he never lost the sense of morality that was his bedrock. After his escape, Josiah became an advocate for those still in bondage. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, he led 118 slaves to safety in Canada. Working for Freedom is the story of a man who proved that one person can make a difference in defending and promoting human rights.

About the author

Rona Arato is a children’s author with a strong interest in human rights. As a writer and editor for over twenty years, she has written on a wide variety of subjects including education, business, travel, fashion and Internet technology. Her work has appeared in mag-azines and newspapers in Canada, the United States, and England. Rona is the author of Fossils, Clues to Ancient Life and World of Water (Crabtree, 2004) and Ice Cream Town (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2007). Her new books include Working for Freedom: The Story of Josiah Henson for Napoleon (Fall 2008), Making a Difference for Maple Tree Press (Fall 2008), and Design It! for Tundra Books (Spring 2009). Rona began writing in the mid 1970s while raising her three children. She has also worked as a public relations consultant for profit and non-profit. She has taught adult Creative Writing for the Toronto District Board and conducted business writing workshops for profit and non-profit organizations in the Toronto area. She has written educational materials for organizations including Mosdos Press in Cleveland, Girl Guides of Canada, and B’nai Brith Canada. From 1994-1998, Rona had the privilege of serving as an interviewer for Survivors of the Shoa, a Steven Spielberg project that recorded the histories of Holocaust survivors. It was this experience that fostered her interest in and desire to write about human rights. Rona discovered Josiah Henson’s story while researching a project on Canadian heroes. She was immediately taken with his strength and courage in the face of seemingly insur-mountable obstacles. His dedication to human rights and freedom spoke to her heart and she hopes that his story will affect others, especially youth, in the same way it has affected her.

Rona Arato's profile page

Librarian Reviews

Working for Freedom: The Story of Josiah Henson (Stories of Canada)

I have an old family photo of my dad and me standing in front of Uncle Tom’s Cabin outside Dresden, Ontario. I was a child (many years ago!), but I remember our visit that day. It was a simple site then, probably just one house open to the public. I visited again a couple of years ago; it is now an extensive museum and historic site that includes some original buildings from the area, a cemetery and a beautiful Interpretive Centre. It commemorates the life and accomplishments of Josiah Henson, a slave who escaped to Canada and founded the Dawn Settlement, a community where former slaves lived and prospered for many years.

His story, like that of many escaped slaves, is one of terrible hardship, courage, perseverance and a bit of luck. After escaping to Canada with his family, he became a regular conductor on the Underground Railroad. Later, he started a school and a sawmill. He visited England to exhibit his students’ woodwork and met Queen Victoria. His son taught him to read at the age of 50 and he wrote his autobiography to raise money to buy his brother’s freedom. (Harriet Beecher Stowe read his story and wrote her own story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that contributed to the tensions that led to the Civil War.) Josiah was a gifted preacher who continued to preach, write and speak out against the evils of slavery until his death at age 93.

Like the other books in the Stories of Canada series, Working for Freedom is made up of short chapters, many original photos and black and white drawings, useful sidebars and an index. Rona Arato’s writing is smooth and sure; the dialogue flows and the stories of Henson’s adventurous life keep the reader turning the pages. The author gives us the short version of Josiah Henson’s life in our next title, but you should read the full story to appreciate this great man and his contribution to Canadian black history.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Summer 2009. Vol.32 No.3.

Working for Freedom: The Story of Josiah Henson (Stories of Canada)

Josiah Henson (1789-1883) was a slave who had been sold three times by the time he turned six. As an adult, he escaped to what is now Ontario and led 118 slaves to safety and freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. This biography contains photos, illustrations, a timeline of Henson’s life and times, an index and a bibliography.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2010.

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