It's 1859, and Clotee, a twelve-year-old slave, has the most wonderful, terrible secret. She knows that if she shares it with the wrong person, she will face unimaginable consequences. What is her secret? While doing her job of fanning her master's son during his lessons, Clotee has taught herself to read and write. But the tutor, Ely Harms, has a secret of his own. In a time when literacy is one of the most valuable skills to have, Clotee is determined to use her secret to save herself and her family. Patricia C. McKissack fills the pages of Clotee's diary with the intrigue and disloyalty of spies and traitors, with celebrations of life, and with the anguish of slavery and death.
"Gr. 4^-6. Frightened by tales of Indian raids and the Donner Party, Hattie in Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie finds life along the trail different from her expectations, though no less eventful. Children wander off and are lost, people drown when the wagons cross rivers, and several are fatally poisoned when Hattie mistakes water hemlock for parsnip. Sometimes mistaken, too, in her initial judgments of people, Hattie still makes friends along the trail, and her experiences broaden her outlook. Rich with details of pioneer life, this fictional diary has a good deal of truth in it. Clotee in Picture of Freedom writes her diary secretly, since "slaves aine s'posed to know how to read and write." Clotee has an extended "family" of people she loves, other slaves who shield each other as best they can from the capricious harshness of plantation life. When a tyrannical overseer and an abolitionist disguised as a tutor come to Belmont Plantation, the stage is set for drama. Children will find Clotee a sympathetic narrator whose insights will take them beyond the stereotypical views of plantation life. Each author brings to her book a wealth of background research as well as a strong heroine and an involving story. Each book ends with an "epilogue" summarizing the girl's adult life as though she were a real person. McKissack's book begins, "During the summer of 1939, when Clotee Henley was ninety-two years old, she was interviewed by Lucille Avery, a student at Fisk University." The unfortunate effect of these epilogues is to blur fiction and history in readers' minds. A more useful addition is an illustrated section discussing American life in the period of the novel. --Carolyn Phelan"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.