Disclosure: I obtained the Kindle edition of this book on 12 October 2017 when it was offered for free. The author is a BookLikes member who engaged in unsolicited promotion (aka spamming) of his books and his newsletter to me via private message. I am an (unverified) author of historical and contemporary romances and non-fiction.
Robert Smalls's remarkable story is well worth being made accessible to readers of all ages and all reading skill levels.
This book, unfortunately, isn't worth reading, for a variety of reasons.
The original artwork is terrific, but it can't save the text. The non-original illustrations, including maps and historic photos, are included with no citations, which prevents the reader from researching them. Even though they may in fact be in the public domain and not subject to copyright restrictions, the sources should still be identified. While the book may be targeted at young readers who won't be doing further research right away, their parents and teachers should have that information.
Especially their teachers, since author Harris claims to be an educator.
The text is fairly bland, but it also contains strong echoes of previously published works. Strong enough echoes to suggest copyright infringement? It's my personal opinion that the Harris book comes very, very close to infringement, but may not be a clear case. And I am not an intellectual property lawyer.
However, there are passages in Harris's book that are eerily similar to passages in Robert F.Kennedy Jr.'s book about Robert Smalls. Are the passages verbatim, identical word for word? Um, no, not quite. But verbatim copying isn't the only way works can be infringed. Often the issue with the Harris book is that the text follows the same sequence or pattern as Kennedy's.
But it isn't just Kennedy's text that is borrowed. One of the sources for a Wikipedia article on Smalls is an article by Gerald Henig. Again, the text isn't verbatim, but it's very, very similar. Neither Kennedy nor Henig -- nor Wikipedia -- is cited in Harris's limited bibliography.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with lifting information from various sources and recombining it into a new text. This isn't an academic research paper that needs formal citations of sources, but there doesn't appear to be anything particularly original about the text. And an adult reader has to wonder: If Harris lifted passages from Wikipedia, Henig, and Kennedy, who else did he borrow from? Is there anything truly original, truly Harris's, in the book at all?
As I mentioned, the artwork by Aaron Harris is very good, but even that compliment has to be tempered: Author Kenneth Harris includes a link to the artist's other work with a warning about adult content.
Amiable Entertainment was instrumental in creating the fabulous artwork in this book. For more of this artwork work check out the following websites at http://amiablecomics.wixsite.com/entertainment and at http://aarongharris.deviantart.com Parental discretion is advised for some content.
Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) . Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.
That kind of warning really shouldn't be in a book aimed at much younger readers.
Furthermore, Harris solicits readers for another work of his that is totally unrelated to the subject of this book and appears to target an entirely different audience.
One Last Thing
Thank you for purchasing my book. Your contribution will help me scatter the seeds of knowledge upon the bright minds of tomorrow. Please be sure to check out my monthly newsletter on the stories of comic strips, comic book superheroes and their creators at http://kforpartnership.wixsite.com/educ
Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 34). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.
If The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls is intended for young readers (no age is specified) then advertisements for adult materials really have no place on these pages. This indicates, to me at least, a lack of writing professional judgment on the author's part. Though he claims to be an educator -- substitute teacher, teacher's aide -- he seems not to understand that it's just not a good idea to promote adult publications in books intended for children. So, what other professional judgments might he lack?
There is a lot of dialogue in the book. How much of it is documented, and how much is the product of Harris's imagination? Some, to be sure, is sourced in historical records, but lacking citations or even any kind of disclosure on the author's part, there's no way to know what is the re-creation of history and what is fictionalization.
Harris clearly lacks familiarity with certain writing conventions, such as the italicization of ships' names. In the following passage, the Planter is the ship on which Robert Smalls effected the escape of himself, his family, the slave crew, and their families. Neither it nor the USS Onward or any other ships are written in italics.
Lieutenant John Nickels was present on one of the Union warships called the USS Onward. He saw the Planter speeding toward his ship. To him and his startled crew, it looked like an enemy boat. They didn’t see the white flag.
Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 8). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.
As the following screen shot from the "Look Inside" preview of the Kennedy book on Amazon shows, that convention was clearly followed.
The snip from the Harris book above, however, illustrates another of Harris's weaknesses: He doesn't proofread carefully.
“Hold your fire!” Nickels ordered his gunmen.
When the Planter was at the audible range, Nichols leaned over the railing of his
Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 9). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.
This isn't the only shift between "Nickels" and "Nichols." Harris makes the same mistake again later.
His capitalization is sometimes creative, to the point that I didn't even pay any attention to his punctuation. The book -- and its author -- already had enough points piled up against them.
I'm not being paid to be Kenneth Harris's editor. I'm not going to invest either the time or the money to check his text against all the potential sources that might have been infringed or plagiarized. I could only access a small portion of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s book via the Amazon "Look Inside" feature. That was enough to make me so uncomfortable about the Harris book that I decided to write this no-star, critical review.