“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from my home, yeah, yeah.”
-- Richie Havens, “Freedom” (1969)
The bell rings.
Daddy gathers wood.
Mama hugs me.
Daddy’s rough hands
slide down my arms.
They walk to the fields
with big hoes
I skip to Miss Sarah Mae’s
with all the young’uns.”
By five or six, most kids these days have heard something about the history of slavery in America and can likely tell you that it involved white people owning black people. But it is one thing to define a concept and quite another to have a sense of what it might have felt like to be a slave.
Through the first-person narration of a little girl--the unnamed main character of THE BELL RANG--we are shown the life of her enslaved family over seven day’s time, and get a real sense of slavery. The bell that rings each day carries with it the authority of the master’s dictates and is practically a character in the story.
This may likely be the most memorable week of this young girl’s life because, on Wednesday, her beloved big brother Ben flees the plantation.
He runs away with two friends, who are recaptured and brought back to the plantation on Saturday. But Ben is apparently gone for good (or for bad). Like his parents and sister, we never know whether he perished in the woods, got captured by some other owner, or made it to freedom.
What a cost of freedom that would be, to never again see your parents or your little sister! Like Ben, I have a little sister, too. She and I are close in age and grew up as close friends. Thinking about our bond, I can imagine what a difficult sacrifice Ben or any slave had to make in order to make a break for freedom and how, with all of their might, the little girl and the community would be praying for his success.
The story of Ben’s unnamed little sister is dramatically illustrated with images of the girl with her family; with the stick doll Ben gives her on his last day there; with the other young’uns; with the white overseer; and down by the creek on Sunday, with the community, being preached to about freedom. The story concludes, on Monday morning, with a stunning illustration of the girl looking directly at us, the bell in the foreground, and a swallow-tailed bird partially flown off of the flyleaf.
THE BELL RANG is a notable 2019 title about which you will undoubtedly be hearing more, both for the quality of the text and the illustrations.
40 pages 978-1-4424-2113-4 Ages 6-10
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
A young slave girl witnesses the heartbreak and hopefulness of her family and their plantation community when her brother escapes for freedom in this brilliantly conceived picture book by Coretta Scott King Award winner James E. Ransome.
Every single morning, the overseer of the plantation rings the bell. Daddy gathers wood. Mama cooks. Ben and the other slaves go out to work. Each day is the same. Full of grueling work and sweltering heat. Every day, except one, when the bell rings and Ben is nowhere to be found. Because Ben ran. Yet, despite their fear and sadness, his family remains hopeful that maybe, just maybe, he made it North. That he is free.
An ode to hope and a powerful tribute to the courage of those who ran for freedom, The Bell Rang is a stunning reminder that our past can never be forgotten.--from the publisher