railroad of courage
railroad of courage

One dreary night, our four grandchildren asked for a bedtime story.  The older children were eleven and ten and the twins had just turned nine.  They had just learned about slavery and were shocked that people once had been bought and sold.







“Did that really happen?”

We answered, “Sadly, yes.”

“Will you tell us a story with a girl as the heroine and a happy ending?”

My husband Dan said, “Did I ever tell you about the secret passage at my old elementary school? The school was in a house that had been part of the Underground Railroad.”

With that, we had the children’s attention.  Every few weeks, we visited and told another episode.  We researched the rich history of the Underground Railroad as the story progressed.   We used a small dictaphone to ensure the continuity of names and events.  When the story ended, the children asked us to type it so their friends could read it.

We happily transcribed the story but found that the written version was terrible!  We rewrote the story with Dan masterminding the plot while I worked on character development.

We worked until we had a first draft.  Dan sent a proposal and sample chapters to ten publishers who were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Then we waited.

After five rejection letters, Ron Hatch from Ronsdale Press in Vancouver wrote, “This has potential.  How hard are you willing to work?”  We said, “We’ll do whatever it takes!”

Railroad of Courage was published a year later (https://ronsdalepress.com/books/railroad-of-courage/).  Dan and I learned that the most rewarding aspect of having our book published is hearing from readers, young and old, who have told us that the story inspires them to challenge injustice.

We encourage other grandparents to tell their stories!  It is a wonderful way to build a bridge between generations, sharing experiences, wisdom and values with young people.


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Dan Rubenstein & Nancy Dyson
Dan‘s interest in runaway slaves began when he attended the Poughkeepsie Day School. Classes were held in an old three-storey house which had been part of the Underground Railroad. Dan and his classmates searched the hallways and rooms for a secret passage and hide-away where runaways would have been hidden. They never found a secret passage but they imagined men, women and children climbing a narrow staircase to a place of safety. Dan’s fifth grade teacher, Mr. Scott, told the class that his great grandparents had been slaves in Mississippi. His great grandparents, like the other four million slaves in the South, were the property of their white owners. In 1863, they were freed when the Emancipation Proclamation became law. The Original Poughkeepsie Day School, Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York Dan grew up and went to college, majoring in economics and creative writing. When he graduated, the United States was at war in Vietnam. Dan believed the war was unjust and he joined many others in protest and civil disobedience. Relying on the power of moral imagination, Dan applied to his draft board for conscientious objector status. Dan and his wife Nancy came to Canada in 1970 to live in a more just society. At Vassar College, Nancy studied international relations and was deeply concerned about issues of inequality. Later, she became an early childhood educator with a special interest in children’s literature. Dan and Nancy have three children and eight grandchildren. They live in Ottawa, Ontario.