A Picture of Freedom by Patricia C. McKissack

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, by Patricia C. McKissack, was published in 1997 by Scholastic.

Having secretly taught herself how to read and write, Clotee, a brave twelve-year-old Virginia slave, witnesses the horrors of slavery and eventually becomes a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Rating: 4/5

A Picture of Freedom is a fantastic book on slavery for children. It can be hard to find the right balance of age-appropriateness and realism when it comes to topics such as slavery, but McKissack details exactly what is necessary in order to present slavery in a way that’s clear, but not too harsh for children.

There’s not much violence or brutality at first glimpse in the book, but Clotee’s life, which seems almost like a normal servant’s life at first, gradually unveils itself as part of the dehumanizing reality of slavery. McKissack carefully, but purposefully, portrays a slave being beaten to death, slaves being married against their will and desire, slave mistresses and mixed-race children, and slaves being separated from their families. She expertly relates all the unfairness and inequality of slavery in the day-to-day scenarios and events that happen in Clotee’s life.

Besides her portrayal of slavery, McKissack also does quite well with other historical details as well. The Underground Railroad is, of course, a big fixture in the book, with the undercover abolitionists whose goal is to help slaves escape and the need for fixed stops and conductors to help the escapes. The Gospel songs and coded lyrics of the black church of the time were also included, which I thought was a nice touch. It also helps explain why so many Gospel songs talk about going to heaven. And I enjoyed that McKissack didn’t make all the Southern white characters slave-owners and racist, as it added even more realism.

A Picture of Freedom is an excellent book for teaching children about slavery. It’s not too dark or brutal, but still covers heavy topics. It also covers the development of Southern Gospel and of the roots of songs in slavery. Clotee is also a great protagonist: hopeful, kind, determined. Her grace and her kindness towards her captors in small moments are some of the best parts of the book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Slavery, violence.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2MKyZ46

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s