From School Library Journal
Grade 2-4-Henry Bell walks young Master Simon to and from school every day. Education is forbidden to the Grismore slaves, but Henry seizes the opportunity to learn what he can anyway. He finishes his work early and rushes back to the schoolhouse, where he climbs a sycamore tree and eavesdrops on the lessons. The other children write their work on slates, but Henry uses the branches of his tree instead, carving letters and words into the bark. Simon's teacher notices Henry's efforts and risks everything to help him study, eventually losing her job and getting run out of town. But by then, Henry knows enough to continue his education on his own. Vaughan's text relates the child's bold, determined struggle to learn in spare but descriptive language. Blanks's dense, deep oil paintings subtly juxtapose the lush, green grass around the schoolhouse and in the leaves of Henry's tree against the hard, red clay around the Grismore plantation. This inspiring collaboration makes a solid contribution to most collections.Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
K-Gr. 3. "Master Grismore says he'll take an ax to the finger of any slave who touches a book." Slave child Henry Bell risks serious punishment when he secretly learns to read and write, first by listening to white kids in the schoolhouse, and then with help from the young teacher, Miss Hattie. Even when Miss Hattie's "treachery" is discovered and she's driven away by angry plantation owners, Henry knows that he will secretly continue to learn because it will help him escape slavery. Both the words and the oil paintings are overblown, a fulsome simile on almost every page ("Hugging that book's like hugging hope"), but the focus on one brave child will bring listeners close to the cruel historical facts and the message about the power of literacy. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved