Title: Light in the Darkness
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator: James E. Ransome
Publisher: Disney Jump At The Sun Books
Publication Date: 2013
Audience: 5-8 years
Summary: Rosa’s mama wakens her in darkness and they slip out of the cabin quietly. They are going to school, a pit school, a hole in the ground concealed by leaves and branches. They are slaves, forbidden to read by their masters. One girl who learned to read was whipped, a lash for each letter. Morris, the teacher, was taught by his mistress to read the Bible long ago and he has shared this knowledge with those brave enough to risk the danger. The pit is crowded with adults and children, all shaping letters with sticks and making their sounds. They don’t talk about the letters at work on the plantation. One night patrollers come near the pit so school doesn’t meet for a while. Two slaves are caught on another plantation and beaten and this nearly ends the school. But Rosa won’t quit. She wants the letters to make words. Now she is the one to awaken her mother and insist they go to school. At first they are the only two with the courage to come back; soon others return. Rosa learns to spell her name then helps a new arrival learn letters. “When we’re free,” says her mama, “We’re gonna need those letters.”
Literary elements at work in the story: The voice of the narrator is a young slave, possibly six or seven. There is some attempt to use dialect-gonna, ain’t, alf-i-bet-but this slice of life is told primarily in a simple, almost poetic voice. The illustrations convey darkness, points of light, confined spaces, fear. The play of light on the faces of the learners is especially effective. The author learned about pit schools when researching the life of Frederick Douglass.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Race dominates this story of slaves who are an economic resource to be used and controlled.
Theological Conversation Partners: This story is a good reminder of the wonder of reading and the value of education. Pit schools are a historical fact that we do well to remember and they give additional weight to the evils of slavery and the tenacity of the human spirit. Although historically churches have established schools wherever they go because, like Morris’s mistress, they want everyone to be able to read the Bible, the United States in the days of slavery proved the exception to the rule. Literacy is surprisingly low in many countries still. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Year Book gives literacy percentages for foreign countries that are frequently sobering. (Ethiopia, 42.7 %, 2012) The book offers occasion to give thanks for the courage of slaves, for differences now in law and culture, for the wonder of books and reading, for teachers, and to ponder the connection between freedom and literacy. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8) Psalm 36 reminds us, “In Your light we see light.” Light is a significant symbol for Christians.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Examine a page of a book and try to imagine that you cannot read it. What are some things you cannot do if you cannot read?
- Why would slave owners forbid reading to their slaves?
- Slave owners said that slaves didn’t want to read and weren’t smart enough to learn. What evidence in this book do you see that this is false.
- Why would the slaves need reading when they were free?
- What tools did the slaves have for learning to read?
- What was the light in the darkness of slavery to which the title refers.
- Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” What does light represent? What would the world be like without light.
- When the Christians follow Jesus faithfully they always establish schools. Why?
- Everyone is required to go to school in the United States. Is this true everywhere? Find out about schools today in other countries.
- Give thanks for your teacher by name.
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
Light in the Darkness by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.