Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, May 21, 2018

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School by Janet Halfmann

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School
by Janet Halfmann; Illustrated by London Ladd
Lee & Low. 2018
ISBN: 9781620141632

I used a copy of the book sent by the publisher to write this review

The power of reading and how it can transform lives is the subject of this informational picture book biography about Lilly Ann Granderson. Born into slavery around 1821 in Petersburg, Virginia, Lilly Ann was taught how to read and write by the master’s children.  As she grew and her reading improved, Lilly Ann read everything she could get her hands on. She even read the newspapers found lying around. “That is how she learned of places in the North where slavery had been abolished.” 

The better she got at reading, the more Lilly Ann wanted to share her knowledge with others. Though it was not illegal for slaves to read and write in Kentucky, it was strongly discouraged. Sundays were the perfect opportunity for teaching while the master’s family went to church and visited friends. Lilly Ann found a hidden spot in the nearby woods where she gathered other enslaved children and began teaching them the alphabet. She did this for years, until her master died and she was sold to a planation in Natchez, Mississippi. 

In Mississippi, it was illegal for enslaved people to read and write. “Landowners feared that if the enslaved could read, they would discover that some northerners wanted slavery abolished. this might lead to rebellion agains the owners.” Another fear was that If a slave could write, they might forge a travel pass and escape to the north. Yet, Lilly Ann found a way, despite the risk to her life.

The engaging narrative is enhanced by the illustrations, done primarily in acrylic paint in a painterly style, by artist, London Ladd. Click here to learn more about Ladd. 

Lilly Ann changed the lives of many children. She continued to teach until late in life. “Lilly Ann Granderson’s inspiration lives on today through all the generations changed forever by her dedication to helping others gain freedom and improve their lives through education.”

The lengthy author’s note gives more detailed information about Granderson. Back matter also includes selected references, and quotation sources.


  1. My daughter would love this. Thank you!

  2. Sounds like a great read! Thanks for keeping us informed. :)

  3. Thanks so much for sharing the story of this brave and inspiring teacher. I'm so hoping that the name Lilly Ann Granderson becomes a household word. Happy Reading to All!