Up the Learning Tree
By School Library Journal
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 agains the hard, red clay around the Grismore plantation. This inspiring collaboration makes a solid contribution to most collections.