Dear America: A Picture of Freedom by Patricia McKissack (New edition published by Scholastic, January 1, 2011; originally published in 1997)
The year is 1859. Clotee has lived all twelve years of her life as a slave on the Belmont Plantation in Virginia. Although she has known no life other than that of a slave, she has secretly learned how to read and write, and that ability gives her a glimpse of the world out there. To practice, she keeps a secret diary that she hides in a hollowed-out tree.
An orphan for most of her life, Clotee has managed to make the best of her circumstances, and writing is one of the few things that brings her any joy. When a tutor comes to the plantation to teach the master's young son, Clotee assumes that he'll just be another prejudiced southerner. But he's an abolitionist who further expands Clotee's horizons, and he may be able to give her the one thing she longs for: freedom.
I first read A Picture of Freedom in 1997 when it was originally published as one of the first few books in the Dear America series. Each book in the series is the fictional diary of a preteen or young teenage girl living during an important time in American history. This particular book brings to life the hardships of life as a slave in the pre-Civil War South from the point of view of a young girl. The Dear America series truly brings history to life and helped me develop a love for historical fiction, and I am glad to see the series is being brought back into print for a new generation of readers. Highly recommended.