I cannot imagine a life without reading. I have been hooked on books for as long as I can remember. That is thanks to my parents who were mentors from the word 'go'. We all read!
To know that people had to hide their learning, and to live in fear of being found out is heartbreaking to me. I know the power of reading, but wonder if I would have had the strength to do what Rosa did night after night. Meeting in the dark, filled with terror that they might be discovered, yet willing to take that chance is at the heart of this memorable book by Lesa Cline-Ransome and her husband James.
It is always late at night when Mama wakens Rosa and leads her to a 'pit school'. In these underground hideouts, people who want a better life meet. It is there that Rosa learns letters. Morris knows how to read (he learned from his master's wife) and he wants others to have that same freedom:
"Mama says one day, when we're free, we're gonna need those letters. But for now we have to act like reading is the last thing we want to do. Master once whipped a slave girl who learned to read."
Young readers, themselves are just learning to read, will understand some of the struggles that Rosa is feeling as she tries to grasp all that Morris is teaching. Luckily, they will have no knowledge of the fear that Rosa experiences as they hide in the pit. That anxiety is heightened when they hear the patrollers nearby, and then learn the next morning that two of the learners were caught and whipped on their way home. Mama won't allow another nighttime lesson.
Rosa has a taste for learning, and she cannot abide not returning to Morris. Finally, she convinces her mother to take another chance. When they arrive at the school, they are the only ones. Soon, they hear soft footsteps and prepare for the consequences of their deception. It is quite a surprise when they look up!
The author's hushed tones, and the secrecy of the trips in the dark of night will hold listeners on the edge of their seats. The illustrator's watercolor palette is infused with the light of learning, while also making sure that we feel the dark drama of the meetings and the ever present patrollers. The perspectives created bring the story alive with the darkness that must envelop the secrets being kept.
It is a beautiful tribute!