Title: Up the Learning Tree
Author: Marcia Vaughan
Illustrator: Derek Blanks
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Year: 2009 (paperback; originally published in 2003)
Concepts: slavery, child schooling
Review: Young Henry Bell, who works as a slave on the Grismore plantation, desperately wants to learn how to read and write. Not only are slaves forbidden to attend school, they can also face severe punishment if caught trying to get an education. Courageously, Henry finds the opportunity to hide in a tree close to the local school every day, overhear the lessons, and carve the letters he learns about in the branches. Ultimately the teacher notices Henry, and she needs to decide if she will report Henry to the plantation owner, or defy a strict set of rules and help Henry to further his schooling.
This book’s dramatic paintings and meaningful story make it an excellent vehicle for teaching younger children about the drudgery of slavery, racial inequality, and institutionalized discrimination in the historic South.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children