A slave mother and her daughter learn to read in spite of the great danger inherent in their enterprise.
Rosa’s mother awakens her at night to walk to a “pit school,” a hole dug in the ground and covered over where slaves gather to learn their ABC’s. Their teacher is a fellow slave who had been taught to read. The patrollers make their journey perilous. Still, the men, women and children gather as often as they can. Cline-Ransome sensitively tells the story from Rosa’s viewpoint, endowing her with a yearning and determination that overcome her mother’s weariness and fear. The author learned of these schools while researching her book on Frederick Douglass, Words Set Me Free (2012). In this tale, she makes the point that learning was not just a dream of a few famous and accomplished men and women, but one that belonged to ordinary folk willing to risk their lives. Ransome’s full-page watercolor paintings—in beautiful shades of blue for the night and yellow for the day—are a window, albeit somewhat gentle, into a slave’s life for younger readers.
A compelling story about those willing to risk “[a] lash for each letter.” (author’s note, further reading) (Picture book. 5-8)