Cover image for A picture of Freedom : the diary of Clotee, a slave girl
A picture of Freedom : the diary of Clotee, a slave girl
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic, c1997
Physical Description:
192 p. : illustrations, map ; 20 cm.
In 1859 twelve-year-old Clotee, a house slave who must conceal the fact that she can read and write, records in her diary her experiences and her struggle to decide whether to escape to freedom.


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It's 1859, and Clotee, a twelve-year-old slave, has the most wonderful, terrible secret. She knows that if she shares it with the wrong person, she will face unimaginable consequences. What is her secret? While doing her job of fanning her master's son during his lessons, Clotee has taught herself to read and write. But the tutor, Ely Harms, has a secret of his own. In a time when literacy is one of the most valuable skills to have, Clotee is determined to use her secret to save herself and her family. Patricia C. McKissack fills the pages of Clotee's diary with the intrigue and disloyalty of spies and traitors, with celebrations of life, and with the anguish of slavery and death.

Author Notes

Patricia C. McKissack was born in Smyrna, Tennessee on August 9, 1944. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Tennessee State University in 1964 and a master's degree in early childhood literature and media programming from Webster University in 1975. After college, she worked as a junior high school English teacher and a children's book editor at Concordia Publishing.

Since the 1980's, she and her husband Frederick L. McKissack have written over 100 books together. Most of their titles are biographies with a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson. Their other works included Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States. Over their 30 years of writing together, the couple won many awards including the C.S. Lewis Silver Medal, a Newbery Honor, nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?. In 1998, they received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also writes fiction on her own. Her book included Flossie and the Fox, Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt, A Friendship for Today, and Let's Clap, Jump, Sing and Shout; Dance, Spin and Turn It Out! She won the Newberry Honor Book Award and the King Author Award for The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural in 1993 and the Caldecott Medal for Mirandy and Brother Wind. She dead of cardio-respiratory arrest on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Horn Book Review

Each of the fictional diaries recounts a year in the life of an eighteenth-century girl. Thirteen-year-old Hattie records her family's journey on the Oregon Trail as part of a covered-wagon train. Clotee, a twelve-year-old slave girl, meditates on the meaning of the word 'freedom' and learns about the Underground Railroad. The girls' voices are believable, and the stories are affecting. A historical note concludes each book. From HORN BOOK 1997, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-6. Frightened by tales of Indian raids and the Donner Party, Hattie in Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie finds life along the trail different from her expectations, though no less eventful. Children wander off and are lost, people drown when the wagons cross rivers, and several are fatally poisoned when Hattie mistakes water hemlock for parsnip. Sometimes mistaken, too, in her initial judgments of people, Hattie still makes friends along the trail, and her experiences broaden her outlook. Rich with details of pioneer life, this fictional diary has a good deal of truth in it. Clotee in Picture of Freedom writes her diary secretly, since "slaves aine s'posed to know how to read and write." Clotee has an extended "family" of people she loves, other slaves who shield each other as best they can from the capricious harshness of plantation life. When a tyrannical overseer and an abolitionist disguised as a tutor come to Belmont Plantation, the stage is set for drama. Children will find Clotee a sympathetic narrator whose insights will take them beyond the stereotypical views of plantation life. Each author brings to her book a wealth of background research as well as a strong heroine and an involving story. Each book ends with an "epilogue" summarizing the girl's adult life as though she were a real person. McKissack's book begins, "During the summer of 1939, when Clotee Henley was ninety-two years old, she was interviewed by Lucille Avery, a student at Fisk University." The unfortunate effect of these epilogues is to blur fiction and history in readers' minds. A more useful addition is an illustrated section discussing American life in the period of the novel. --Carolyn Phelan

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6‘Clotee is an orphan living on the plantation of "Mas' Henley" and "Miz Lilly." Her owners have put her to work fanning Miz Lilly and her young son William during tutoring sessions. William may not be keen to learn, but Clotee is. She has learned to read while looking over the boy's shoulder and eventually she teaches herself how to write. She practices her newfound skills by writing in a makeshift, secret diary, which is found by William's new tutor. Luckily, he turns out to be an abolitionist. Through his work, Clotee helps some of her friends escape to the North, but she herself chooses to stay behind on the plantation as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Clotee is such a vibrant, fully rounded character that it is almost painful to think of her left on the plantation while her friends and fellow slaves go to freedom. McKissack brings Clotee alive through touching and sobering details of slave life, told in such a matter-of-fact way that their often brutal nature is made abundantly clear. However, this is in no way a depressing book. In fact, it is an inspiring look at a young girl coming of age in terrible circumstances who manages to live life to the fullest.‘Melissa Hudak, Northern Illinois Medical Center, McHenry, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.