When Lizzie's parents are granted their freedom from slavery, Mama says its time for Lizzie and her brother Paul to go to a real school--a new one, built just for them. Lizzie can't wait. The scraps of learning she has picked up here and there have just made her hungry for more. The walk to school is long. Some days it's rainy, or windy, or freezing cold. Sometimes there are dangers lurking along the way, like angry white folks with rocks, or mysterious men on horseback. The schoolhouse is still unpainted, and its very plain, but Lizzie has never seen a prettier sight. Except for maybe the teacher, Mizz Howard, who has brown skin, just like her. They've finally made it to Freedom's School. But will it be strong enough to stand forever.
The Emancipation Proclamation has been signed; Lizzie's parents "went to sleep slaves and woke up free." Now they insist Lizzie and her brother go to the new school built "just for us"--even though it means two less pairs of hands to help out on the family's meager farm. "Real freedom means 'rithmetic and writing," Mama says. But the school, its students, and its young teacher (a Northerner who has skin "just as brown as mine," Lizzie marvels) quickly become flashpoints for people determined to halt progress and justice. This collaboration from the Ransomes (Light in the Darkness) isn't always narratively taut--it pulls its dramatic punches, and the text reaches for an earnest folksiness ("we both knew that halfway to freedom feels like no freedom at all"). But James Ransome's watercolors are, as always, emotionally generous, cinematic in their sensibility, and resplendent with gorgeous color. Gradually, the story deepens its hold, and readers will come away understanding why it takes more than the stroke of a pen to give people the justice and equality they deserve. Ages 6-8. (Jan.)Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Gr 2-5--With the passage of the 13th Amendment, announced on the title page in a Boston Globe headline, comes the opportunity for Lizzie and her younger brother, presumably residents of the rural South, to attend school for the first time--a rough wooden structure where Mizz Howard introduces the children to their letters. But getting there means encountering hostile white people, and sometimes school is canceled due to impeding threats. When the building is deliberately set afire, it is the determination of their teacher and other African Americans in the community that allows them to rebuild and rekindle hope for a brighter future. The story is illustrated with Ransome's signature lush, watercolor paintings, all spreads in warm tones of brown, gold, and red contrasted with many shades of green and deep blue. In stark contrast are the endpapers, a white chalk upper- and lowercase alphabet against solid black, symbolic of the struggle between the races. VERDICT A stunning package that adds to the body of literature documenting the African American experience.--Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYCopyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.