Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 26, 2020


Janet Hoffman has written a new non-fiction Chapter book titled, THE STORY OF CIVIL WAR HERO ROBERT SMALLS, Illustrated by Duane Smith and published by Lee & Low Books. Janet has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Janet and Duane!

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


This exciting entry in the Story of line of chapter-book biographies introduces readers to Robert Smalls, an enslaved steamboat wheelman who commandeered a Confederate ship during the Civil War and escaped with his family and crew to freedom.

Growing up enslaved in South Carolina, Robert Smalls always dreamed of the moment freedom would be within his grasp. Now that moment was here.

Robert stood proudly at the Planter’s wheel. Only seven miles of water lay between the ship and the chance of freedom in Union territory. With precision and amazing courage, he navigated past the Confederate forts in the harbor and steered the ship toward the safety of the Union fleet. Just one miscalculation would be deadly, but for Robert, his family, and his crewmates, the risk was worth taking.

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls is the compelling account of the daring escape of Robert Smalls, an enslaved steamboat wheelman who became one of the Civil War’s greatest heroes. His steadfast courage in the face of adversity is an inspiring model for all who attempt to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. This chapter book edition includes black-and-white illustrations as well as sidebars on related subjects, a timeline, a glossary, and recommended reading.


Journey to Writing my New Chapter Book, The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

My journey for The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls,a chapter book for Grades 3-7, began more than fifteen years ago. Back then I happened upon a few lines about the daring Civil War escape of Robert Smalls and his crew when I was looking for minority people of achievement to spotlight. I wanted to do my small part to shine the light on people whom history had all but forgotten. Smalls’ dangerous escape thrilled me, and I thought it would kids as well.

Telling this escape story was difficult because at that time no recent historian had written a definitive work about Robert Smalls. I sought out every primary and other source I could find and in August 2005 finished writing the story and submitted it. In March 2006 Lee and Low Books expressed interest and asked for a rewrite that showed more of Smalls’ motivation. It took several rewrites before I was offered a contract, and many more rewrites before the story was published in 2008 as the picture book Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story.The book won a KirkusStar, my first! The book continues to be extremely popular, with fantastic teacher’s guides created both by the publisher and the Smithsonian.

About a year ago, the Editorial Director at Lee & Low told me the book had been chosen to be part of their new “The Story of” biography series of chapter books for older readers. Many of Lee & Low’s biographies including mine skew older than most picture books, and the school sales representatives at Lee & Low thought with added factual and historical material and a chapter book format, they would be popular with older kids. Thus “The Story of” series was born in June 2018, and now has twelve titles.

For the new format, I wrote five major sidebars to extend the original story, plus a timeline, glossary, and recommended reading. The book has illustrations by Duane Smith in black and white, plus additional sidebar graphics. The sidebars are Slavery, Sailing Ships in the 1800s, What Caused the Civil War? the Planter,and The Wedding Chest Escape.Writing sidebars on five very different topics required a lot of new research. I wanted these additions to tie in well with the original story, which made it even harder.

The Sailing Ships sidebar was the hardest one to tie to Robert Smalls and Charleston Harbor. Luckily, after lots of searching I found a firsthand account of the number and kinds of ships docked in Charleston Harbor at the time Robert would have been working there. That was the tie-in I needed.

One of the most fun sidebars to write was an in-depth look at the Planter,the steamboat on which Smalls, his crew, and their families escaped. In 2010 researchers found what they believe to be the remains of the Planteroff Cape Romain Island in South Carolina, where it was wrecked in 1876 as it tried to rescue another boat that had gone aground. The report written about the discovery provided lots of great information. I also was lucky to connect with Dennis Cannady of Smalls’ hometown of Beaufort, a retired mechanical engineer who has created several replicas of the Planter and knows its history inside and out.

The Wedding Chest Escape story is one that captivated me when I came across it several years ago when I read William Still’s book documenting hundreds of escape stories. I am happy that I got to share this story of Lear Green’s escape in a sailor’s chest so she and her fiancé could marry and have their children in freedom. My research led me beyond Still’s story to Elmira, NY, where the couple settled. Green took the name Elizabeth Adams in freedom and is honored in the city’s cemetery.

The story of Robert Smalls is better known now that it was in 2008 when my picture book came out. But the story still has lots of people to reach. I hope this new chapter book helps give Robert Smalls the recognition he deserves as a brave Civil War hero and five-term Congressman who fought all his life for the rights of all people.


is the author of more than forty books for children, including Lee & Low’s Midnight Teacher, which Kirkus called “An excellent homage to an African-American woman who taught ahead of her time” in a starred review. When she’s not writing, Halfmann enjoys working in the garden, exploring nature, visiting new places, especially wildlife areas and living-history museums, and watching movies. Halfmann lives with her husband in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Visit Janet Halfmann on the Web at


Duane is an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer with a degree from Pratt Institute in New York City and a Master’s in Illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology. His wide-ranging works have been featured in periodicals, books, movie storyboards, and galleries. Smith also works in graphic design and interactive media development, and splits his time between homes in Brooklyn and Albany, New York. Visit him online at

2010-Present: ALBANY, NEW YORK: Self Education: An expansion on Pratt Institute
BFA in Cyber Multimedia Illustration + Research in Engineering. 2005-07 Fashion Institute of Technology: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, MA (MASTERS IN ILLUSTRATION) 2007 ; 3.5 gpa; Major: Illustration | Historical Research | Design Media: Program includes of techniques within illustration digital and traditional media: Thesis & capstone entailing research, writing & design. *Studies included training of techniques within illustration and graphic design to improve work quality. 1993-2001 Pratt Institute: BROOKLYN, NY, BFA (BACHELORS OF FINE ARTS) SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN 2001 COMMUNICATION MEDIA ARTS: 3.0 gpa; 138 credits; Major: Illustration Minor: Multimedia Development:
interest in Communication Media Arts and drafting.

Paperback Cover

Thank you Janet for sharing your book and its journey with us. It is nice you are introducing another black hero in our history. I am sure teachers will be interested in reading this book and sharing it with their students. Good luck!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Congrats, Janet! Sounds like a fascinating book.


  2. Loved reading about the book’s journey Janet! And this new Lee and Lowe line sounds super interesting. Thanks for sharing! I’m a daily follower and shared on Twitter too! Thanks Kathy.


  3. Kathy, thanks so much for putting my book in the spotlight. I’m hoping this amazing hero’s story will spread far and wide!


  4. I listened to an audiobook about Robert Smalls and was fascinated. I put it up on Pinterest, FB, Twitter, and am a regular subscriber. I’d love to see how Janet wrote this as a biography for kids.


  5. Very interesting topic and and I enjoyed the journey to publication as well as the journey to freedom. Thanks!


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