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Book Review: Journey Back to Freedom: The Olaudah Equiano Story by C. Johnson (Barrington Stoke)

Written by Catherine Johnson

Illustrated by Katie Hickey


For ages 9+

*[Ad-review copy]

A few months ago I visited The Historic Dockyard Chatham with my husband and children. It was there that we came across an unusual and award-winning exhibit, part of the wreck of a ship called the 'Namur'. Accompanying this unusual display, which appeared to be a suspended floor of lines of timbers, was an actor's voice portraying one of its seamen, one Olaudah Equiano. At the gift shop I purchased his autobiography . Henceforth, I was seriously delighted to receive Catherine Johnson's biography of Equiano told as a story for children, published by the highly respected, Barrington Stoke.

If you are familiar with my reviews you will know that I wax lyrical about Barrington Stoke. I have a daughter who is dyslexic and working in the Moon Lane bookshop for years there were many children who delighted in finding a book from their range whether because the child has dyslexia, a different type of learning difficulty, or whether they are a new or reluctant reader. There books are written by the best authors, illustrated by the most talented artists, so you know what you're going to get.

About the book

Told in the first person, through the eyes of Olaudah himself, this is a captivating story. As you will read at the end of the book in the author's notes, she herself has stuck to the facts where she can, based on his autobiographical writings, but has had to blend some of the events in his life in order to fit them into this very well written and pacy, concise work.

Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano

From the clever title 'Journey Back to Freedom' you can guess that the reader follows Olaudah's life journey beginning at his home in Essaka in Africa in 1745, when he was a little boy living happily with his parents and siblings, to his kidnapping and enslavement, through to his determination to become free once more. The author has very aptly, but sensitively due to the age of the intended reader, described the conditions slaves were kept in and what Olaudah must have experienced, perhaps witnessing traumatic events, threat to life and understandably developing a hatred for white men.

Olaudah was first sold in America and I found it intriguing putting myself into his shoes as he comes across white (or European) society for the first time, the fascination with seeing gold framed paintings on walls for the first time, he also of course doesn't speak English. Not long afterwards, Olaudah is sold to a British naval officer and is back aboard a ship, this time bound for England. They land there in 1757.

HMS Namur, Jane Austen's brother's ship
HMS Namur, Jane Austen's brother's ship

This young boy is fast growing up, defending himself in fights with other lower rank seamen on board ship, having to learn rigging and other duties, improving his English with help from a new friend... but what shines through is that Olaudah is an opportunist and he always sees opportunities in people he meets and in the skills they might teach him - a true entrepreneur. He also has a thirst to read books, something unusual for someone from his rank and background in this era of history.

Knowing where to hedge his bets, he takes part in warfare in Nova Scotia, becomes indispensable to Captains and crew. Eventually he is able to earn enough money through his endeavours and hard work to pay for his own freedom and become an English person of good repute, an author and a campaigner against slavery.

Thank you, Catherine Johnson, for writing this book for children, it's beautifully written and I have had the pleasure already of ordering it in for schools. Adults, this is an accessible and highly engaging account of slavery, naval history and society during the 1700s. Teachers, this is perfect historical fiction for slavery topics in class. The illustrations and cover by Katie Hickey are stunning, I'm a huge fan of her work.

About the creators

Catherine Johnson (author)

Catherine Johnson is a screenwriter and bestselling author of several books for children and young adults. Shortlisted for the 2020 UKLA Book Awards, Race to the Frozen North is a perennial bestseller with sales of over 40,000 to date. Her acclaimed novel Sawbones won the Young Quills Award for Historical Fiction, and The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the YA Book Prize. Catherine is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Katie Hickey (illustrator)

Katie is a freelance illustrator straight out of Falmouth University in beautiful (and slightly soggy) Cornwall, England. Having grown up in Cornwall, and also in the middle-east, Katie takes inspiration from her travels and surroundings to create characterful and atmospheric images.


Key themes

historical fiction

Olaudah Equiano


Royal Navy


British Empire


Black history

Grab a copy

Buy here through my affiliate link at or purchase from your local independent bookshop...

Publication date: 1 September 2022

Format: Paperback

Also by Catherine Johnson for Barrington Stoke:

*My review copy was kindly sent to me by the publisher.

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