Light in the Darkness

by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author) James E Ransome (Illustrator)

Light in the Darkness
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
Rosa and her mama go to school together-in the dark of night, silently, afraid that any noise they hear is a patroller on the lookout for escaped slaves. Their school is literally a hole in the ground, where they and other slaves of all ages gather to form letters out of sticks, scratch letters in the dirt, and pronounce their sounds in whispers. Young Rosa is eager to learn the letters and then the words, because after the words comes reading. But she must have patience, her mama reminds her, and keep her letters to herself when she's working on the plantation. If the Master catches them, it'll mean a whipping-one lash for each letter. No matter how slow and dangerous the process might be, Rosa is determined to learn, and pass on her learning to others.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-4—Illuminating a little-known aspect of American history, Cline-Ransome dramatizes a tale of a "pit school," a hidden and disguised ditch where literate slaves skipped sleep to pass learning on to others at enormous risk. Told from the perspective of Rosa, a girl who makes the dangerous nighttime journey to the lessons with her mother, the story effectively conveys the urgent dedication of the characters to their surreptitious schooling and their belief in the power of literacy. Employing a muted palette of deep browns and blues, Ransome creates rich, full-spread watercolor paintings with radiant glints of moon and lantern light; the illustrations depicting the lessons share a tight focus and intimate perspective that places viewers into the cramped pit with the students. Young Rosa's voice, simple and straightforward, is mostly consistent and has touches of lyricism, and her somewhat-sheltered point of view allows Cline-Ransome to develop the serious threat of the plantation master and roaming patrollers searching for out-of-bound slaves without making the menace too horrifying. Solid text and soft, skillful illustrations combine for a poignant tribute to the power of education and the human spirit.—Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY

Copyright 2012 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

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) Kirkus"
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome have collaborated on many award-winning picture books for children. These include Before She was Harriet, a Coretta Scott King honor book; Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the first Black-and-White Jazz Band in History; Satchel Paige, which was an ALA Best Book for Children and Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass, which received starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal. They live in the Hudson River Valley region of New York.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
January 20, 2013
BISAC categories
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV016140 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 19th Century
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
Southern states
South Carolina Childrens, Junior and Young Adult Book Award
Nominee 2015 - 2016

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