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The Bell Rang

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  555 ratings  ·  135 reviews
A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019

A young slave girl witnesses the heartbreak and hopefulness of her family and their plantation community when her brother escapes for freedom in this brilliantly conceived picture book by Coretta Scott King Award winner James E. Ransome.

Every single morning, the overseer of the plantation rings the bell. Daddy gathers wood. Mama
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (first published 2019)
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Average rating 4.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  555 ratings  ·  135 reviews

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Jillian Heise
Wow. Powerful story. Spare text shows the repetition of days for enslaved people and builds tension up to a family member running away. Illustrations are striking.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
How can the story of our country’s original sin – slavery – be depicted in a children’s picture book? James Ransome has done a beautiful and moving job by centering the child. A young girl whose name we don’t know is the narrator, recounting her life, day by day. From her perspective, we see a family eating together after a day of work. She shares her family’s love for one another:

Mama kisses me.
Daddy hugs me.
My brother Ben
touches my shoulder

Just as matter-of-factly, she relates that
The Reading Countess
Simple, repetitive text drives home the mundane lives that enslaved people endured day after day.
Correta Scott King award winning author-illustrator James E. Ransome’s freshly published book about being torn between running for freedom and leaving those whom you love to weep in your wake is sure to garner more awards.
Pick up this gloriously illustrated, no-holds-barred look at family, bravery and sacrifice, and the sheer cruelty of enslavement.
This is a skinny book with big
February is Black History Month and while I believe Black History is integral part of American History and should be all year round I always like read a book that deals with Black History Month and this children picture book is phenomenal.

How are we suppose to have an open dialogue to teach children about slavery and how its one of several dark moments in our history without frightening them? I honestly believe this picture book nails the mark and showcasing slavery through the eyes of a young
Mary Lee
Gorgeously illustrated.
Heart-wrenchingly repetitive.
What does it take for a slave to run? What does it do to the family left behind?
I was struck by the beautiful illustrations as soon as I saw the cover of this book. The story, on the other hand, was more gut-wrenching, but extremely necessary.
Laura Giessler
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
An unusual children's book in that it depicts slavery in a very frank, unvarnished way, from the point of view of an enslaved child. At first, I was taken aback at the strong words and content--whips, guns, overseer--but upon reflection, I think the matter-0f-fact presentation was appropriate: these were common elements of their everyday life. The repetition of their daily routine was effective. The openendedness was also perfect for this story of an enslaved boy running for freedom because his ...more
This is beautiful. Every day, the bell rings on the plantation. Every day, Daddy gathers wood and Mama cooks and then all the slaves go to work in the fields and the young narrator goes to Miss Sarah Mae's with all the other children. Then one day, her older brother Ben runs away with two others. The two other boys are caught and whipped, but her brother doesn't return. We see the sorrow and longing for her brother (and her parents for their son) but also the hope that he has made it safely to ...more
This reminds me a lot of My Name Is James Madison Hemings: a picture book about slaves, poetically told and beautifully illustrated, that doesn't pull punches. It's not an easy book, but it is still appropriate for children. I think it could even be used by older children, especially in a classroom setting.
Stacy  Natal
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
One of the best picture books about slavery that I've read. The student that I read it to asked me to share it with other teachers so that is a five star for me. :)
Jordan Henrichs
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Keeping the focus of the text and illustrations on the family praying for their son, amidst their repetitive days, made this all the more compelling.
Christina Busche
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
An engaging story with beautifully expressive art.
Michele Knott
This is a story that will stay with me for some time. A slavery story about when a family member runs and the family left behind. Not a word is wasted in this story. Illustrations are amazing.
Through the eyes of a young African-American girl growing up in slavery, Ransome describes the emotional journey of the family members left behind after one of them makes a bold bid for freedom. Moving in its sparsity, the simple text captures the uncertainty and monotonous routine of plantation life.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This one is a difficult and beautiful one. It made me cry in the way that Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say made me cry, and yet it's more powerful in it's spare words and beautiful illustration. It recounts the life of a slave family in the rhythym of their days, and then in the sudden escape of the son, Ben. The tension is masterfully conveyed, and I love that it leaves you never knowing what happened to Ben - conveying the unknown and the loss that many families in slavery experienced. Wow.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all Americans
Recommended to Melle by: Publishers Weekly
This is a gorgeous gut-punch of a book. Poetic, devastating, and meant to be read in between the lines. Appropriate for elementary students, especially upper elementary students (and, heck, even middle schoolers and beyond) to help cultivate empathy for the experiences of enslaved people and families, especially enslaved children.
M.E. Tudor
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a hard book to give a rating to. I thought book was well written and the artwork very good, but the subject matter is not for small children. I am very much a proponent of children being made aware of the atrocities visited upon slaves during the early times of this country. But, at what age do you try to explain to a child about people being chased by vicious dogs and beaten with whips? I think parents should read this book before they read it to their children and decide if their ...more
As the James E. Ransome moves us through a week, we find a rhythm of a life interrupted. The bell rings before the sun is up. Daddy gathers wood. Mama cooks. They eat together. There is an affectionate parting of the ways as they head off in the direction of their days.

Variations in the rhythm occur, but the first significant shift is when our narrator’s older brother gifts her a doll. The older brother Ben, whose face we never see, runs away that day…on the third day. It is an otherwise
Alex  Baugh
In this beautifully illustrated picture book, James Ransome poignantly and realistically captures one week in the life of an enslaved family as seen through the eyes of their young daughter. Each day begins the same way as her family wakes up to the ringing of the overseer's bell while is it still dark outside. And each day mirrors every other day: "Daddy gathers wood. Mama cooks. We eat." Then, Daddy, Mama, and older brother Ben head to the fields with the other enslaved people, watched by the ...more
Richie Partington
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picturebooks
Richie's Picks: THE BELL RANG by James E. Ransome, Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, January 2019, 40p., ISBN: 978-1-4424-2113-4

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from my home, yeah, yeah.”
-- Richie Havens, “Freedom” (1969)


The bell rings.
Daddy gathers wood.
Mama cooks.
We eat.

Mama hugs me.
Daddy’s rough hands
slide down my arms.
Ben waves

They walk to the fields
with big hoes
for chopping.
I skip to Miss Sarah Mae’s
with all the young’uns.”

By five or six, most kids these days
Judy Lindow
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read for the Mock Caldecott 2020. The art in this book is lush, dark and beautiful with a hint of Craftsman style oil painting. The way the child disappears like a hiccup within the weekly one-day-to-next is an unexpected surprise, a shock. People getting beat up, dogs chasing after humans, men on horses chasing someone you loved, not knowing if a brother, a son is safe, free, caught, or hurt -- this could be very traumatizing for someone, especially a child to read; especially for the child to ...more
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
This new book from a Coretta Scott King Award winner is a stunning look at slavery and freedom. Told over the course of a week, the book depicts the monotony and toll of the grueling work that never changes or abates. On each day, the bell rings to wake them and the narrator’s older brother indicates that he is going to leave and run away to freedom. Each touch of his hands says it, he says it aloud and he leaves her a gift. When he does run, the days become even harder, being unable to eat and ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: caldecott
The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome
Every day is the same for this family. The bell rings, daddy gathers wood, mama cooks and they eat. Mama and Daddy and brother Ben go to the fields while baby sister goes with Miss Sarah Mae. On Wednesday Ben kisses baby sister on the forehead and gives her a doll before he goes to the fields. Every day is the same. Every day but one. Ben ran away to what his family hopes is freedom. But the days still go on, all being the same. The bell rings, daddy gathers
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
A powerful story representing the difficult and at times repetitive and mundane lives that slaves lived on agricultural plantation in the South. Every day the family of four lived the same routine: The bell rings calling Mama, Daddy, and Ben to the fields to work, and the little girl goes to Miss Sarah Mae’s house to be cared for. One morning, Ben leaves the house by giving his sister a doll and whispering “good-bye” in her ear. Later that day, the family finds out that Ben and two older boys ...more
It's hard to read this story and yet then I feel guilty because I feel I'm stealing those feelings, will not ever have this kind of experience of saying goodbye unless one counts the passing of a family member. Through the week, a young slave girl in a family relates her day, same thing every day, until it isn't. "Monday, "The bell rings, and no sun in the sky. Daddy gathers wood. Mama cooks. We eat." James Ransome's illustration shows a family, though slaves, enjoying their meal before the ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Bells are used for signals, requests, music, warnings and demands. Ringing wakes us as an alarm when it's time to get up each morning. Bells begin and end the day at schools and factories. (Did you ever notice how the same sound changes in meaning at the start and end of the day?) The sound of a bell can announce our presence as visitors. It can indicate the need for ourhelp as customers. Bells come in all shapes and sizes and their purpose is as varied.

The ringing of a bell should never
Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*
The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome. PICTURE BOOK. Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), 2019. $18. 9781442421134



A young girl in slavery narrates a week in her life in a poetic style. When the bell rings her parents go to work in the fields and she goes with the other kids on the plantation. One day her brother runs away and everyone somberly wonders if he made it to freedom.

The illustrations in this book are vivid and beautiful and clearly
Sandy Brehl
I'm a fan of painter James E. Ransome and admire the extent to which the evocative images empower stories of enslavement to reveal the humanity of the individuals portrayed. Readers of any age can identify with the emotions and scale of the relationships among enslaved families and between them and the OWNERS of the very lives.
In this case the remarkable art is well-matched by the simple but lyrical text, revealing as much between the words as through them.
My only caution about the book is a
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