William "Bill" Lewis was born on a plantation in Winchester, Tenn., sometime between 1810 and 1815. The black biological son of Colonel James Lewis, Bill was enslaved alongside his mother and siblings. "As soon as Bill was old enough to grip a hammer, Colonel Lewis decided that the young boy should be a blacksmith." Bill started by putting away tools, sweeping ashes and hauling coal and water; as he grew, he learned more about the trade and increased his skills. "Bill had not asked to become a blacksmith, but he was very good at it.... He earned so much money fixing old tools and creating new ones that Colonel Lewis let Bill keep a little money for himself." And this was how his plan blossomed: he decided that he would use his skills, work hard and earn enough money to buy his and his family's freedom.
Bill opened up a blacksmith shop and slowly, through relentless, near-constant work, earned the money to free first his wife, then himself, his child, his mother, his aunt, his brothers and, finally, his sister. "Twenty-six years after" Bill put his plan in action, it was complete: "Now he finally had his loving family around him, just like when he was a boy. Only now they were all free."
Rita Lorraine Hubbard's first picture book, Hammering for Freedom, is a thoroughly researched, absorbing account of Bill Lewis, a respected freed slave in his pre-Civil War, segregated community. Hubbard doesn't shy away from the realities of slavery but she keeps the focus on Bill's force of will and dedication to his dream. Holyfield's acrylic illustrations are richly colored and dramatic, full of movement and emotion, matching the vibrant text that documents this inspirational life. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness