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Review of The Bell Rang

The Bell Rang
by James E. Ransome; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate     Dlouhy/Atheneum     40 pp.
1/19     978-1-4424-2113-4     $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-7671-3     $10.99

“The bell rings, / and no sun in the sky. / Daddy gathers wood. / Mama cooks. / We eat.” Ransome paints a heartbreaking picture of an enslaved family existing within the confines of an inhumane institution. Using deceptively simple, repetitive verse, a young enslaved girl narrates her family’s daily activities over the course of a week, beginning on Monday. Every morning, the bell rings, signaling the start of a long, arduous day of labor for her mother, father, and older brother, Ben. Every day, the bell rings; every day, Ben tells her goodbye. Until Thursday — when her family discovers that Ben has run away, leaving them simultaneously grieving Ben’s absence, praying for his safety, and hoping for his freedom. When the two boys Ben fled with are apprehended, returned to the plantation, and whipped, the question of what happened to Ben hangs in the balance. The author succeeds in communicating the myriad and complex emotions of individuals choosing to flee chattel enslavement and the aftermath for those left behind. Through lush watercolors that expertly frame and highlight the characters, the reader is drawn equally into scenes of tenderness, joy, terror, and despair. Without sugarcoating or minimizing the complexity of human emotion, the illustrations communicate what words cannot: the tender love of family, the cruelty of enslavement, the emptiness left after the loss of a loved one, and the ever-present dilemma of self-emancipation for those who lived in bondage. The book’s open-ended final page will leave the reader with more questions than answers.

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Monique Harris

Monique Harris is a public educator, reading specialist and independent educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science degree in Education from Simmons College. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts.

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