The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad makes an excellent topic for an interdisciplinary, thematic, reading unit. This project could be adapted for many levels. Consider combining this theme with quilts.
Kick off your unit with a History Happens song called "On An Underground Railroad" that includes the sound files and movie.

Click on the book covers for information from Amazon.

Title: Stealing South
Author: Katherine Ayres
Publisher: Delacorte, 2001
ISBN: 038572912X
Ages: 9-12
Summary: Sixteen year old, Will Spencer gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to go to Kentucky to steal two slaves. He is to help them reach their brother in Canada. Will discovers that people are not always what they seem and that it's not always easy to tell right from wrong.
Author Information: Katherine Ayres
Book Information and Discussion Questions: Lesson Plan

Title: Steal Away Home
Author: Lois Ruby
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 1994
ISBN: 0689824351
Ages: 9-12
Summary: This book has two parallel stories. We learn about a Quaker family in Kansas in the late 1850's who operate a station on the Underground Railroad. Almost 150 years later, twelve-year-old Dana moves into the same house and finds the skeleton of a black woman who helped the Quakers.
Author Information: Lois Ruby
Book Information and Discussion Questions: Discussion Guide 1, Discussion Guide 2
Ideas: Soon Be Free is by the same author.

Title: North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad
Author: Katherine Ayres
Publisher: Yearling, 2000 (reprint edition)
ISBN: 044022747X
Ages: 9-12
Summary: Lucinda Spencer is a farm girl who lives in Ohio. She has been helping her parents with the Underground Railroad since age 12. This is just a fun adventure until she is asked to move away from her family. Helping the escaping slaves will put her in danger.
Author Information: Katherine Ayres
Book Information: Teacher's Guide

Title: Under the Quilt of the Night
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Publisher: Atheneum, 2002
ISBN: 0689822278
Ages: 4-8
Summary: This book follows the journey of a young slave girl on her journey to freedom in Canada.
Author Information: Deborah Hopkinson
Ideas: Use this for lower level readers or as read-aloud. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt is by the same author.

Title: Follow the Drinking Gourd
Author: Jeanette Winter
Publisher: Knopf, 1992
ISBN: 0679819975
Ages: 3-8
Summary: This Reading Rainbow book is based on an American folktale. The story follows runaway slaves who use a song to guide them to the Ohio River and the Underground Railroad.
Book Information: NASA (explains the constellations), Teacher's Guide,
Ideas: This is a good alternative for low ability readers. Connect this with a unit on the constellations. There is also an audio tape and video available.

Title: The Secret to Freedom
Author: Marcia Vaughan
Illustrator: Larry Johnson
Publisher: Lee & Low Books Inc., 2001
Ages: Grades 8-12
Summary: A young girl's great-aunt tells the story of a ragged family quilt. Explore how quilt patterns help provide information to slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.

Books at Same Level
Bright Freedom's Song : A Story of the Underground Railroad by Gloria Houston
Choosing Up Sides by John H. Ritter
Dear Austin : Letters from the Underground Railroad by Elvira Woodruff
Escape from Slavery : Five Journeys to Freedom by Doreen Rappaport
Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark
Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Jim Haskins
Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry
Journey to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Courtni C. Wright
The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Barbara Greenwood
North Star to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Gena K. Gorrell
Soon Be Free by Lois Ruby
Stealing Freedom by Elisa Lynn Carbone
The Story of Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad by Kate H. McMullan
True North: A Novel of the Underground Railroad by Kathryn Lasky
The Underground Railroad by Raymond Bial (Photographer)

Books at Lower Levels
Allen Jay and the Underground Railroad by Marlene Targ Brill
Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold
Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson

Books at Higher Levels
'Dear Friend' Thomas Garrett & William Still: Collaborators on the Underground Railroad by Judith Bentley
The Last Safe House by Barbara Greenwood

Technology Connections
Try some of the following activities using the software in your classroom, lab, or library:
  • KidPix or Paint Software. Create a visual code system like the ones used in underground railroad quilts. Draw a map showing the route described in your book. Compare different books. Create a picture of the constellations your characters may have seen at night. Make the floorplan of a house or other hiding place.
  • Kidspiration or Inspiration. Create a diagram retelling one of the stories. Create a diagram of your story. Create a diagram showing the relationships in your story.
  • Word Processor. Write a story about what may have happened to one of the characters in your book. In pairs, write about what might have happened if characters in two different books met.
  • Email. Participate in an underground railroad discussion.

Internet Connections
Thematic Starting Points
42 eXplore: Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad-National Geographic
Student Projects
Road to Freedom
Threads of Freedom
Underground Railroad
Virtual Underground Railroad Quilt
Teacher Resources and WebQuests
All Aboard
Follow the Drinking Gourd - Using Codes
Piecing Together Ohio's Past: Codes in Quilts
Traveling on the Underground Railroad
Two Tickets to Freedom
Underground Map Lesson
Underground Railroad Theme Page
Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad-Webquest
Underground Railroad: Stairway to Freedom
Underground Railroad: Conductors and Travelers
Underground Railroad: A WebQuest
Underground Railroad: Teachers
Underground Railroad Lesson
Underground Railroad Lesson Plan
Related Words

underground railroad

fugitive slave












safe house

North Star



bounty hunter






freedom train

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Updated by Annette Lamb and Nancy R. Smith, 6/99. Updated 01/04.