From 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, NYα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
A young slave girl and her mother risk getting a whipping when they sneak out of their living quarters at night to join other slaves who have gathered in a “pit school” to “learn letters,” one “barely big enough for us to stand in.” When the group comes close to being discovered by white patrolmen, the lessons are discontinued, but eventually they resume as the slaves gradually reconvene in spite of the danger. Dramatic, deep-toned, full-page illustrations, mostly dark because of the nighttime setting, skillfully match the vivid, rich language of the text. The expressive faces of the characters shine through the darkness, clearly conveying the senses of determination, fear, and hope which permeate the story. This will surely spark a good number of questions about the condition and treatment of slaves, and why they would go to such extremes to educate themselves. A brief author’s note about pit schools is appended. Grades K-3. --Enos, Randall