Addy Learns a Lesson

Published in 1993; author Connie Porter; illustrators Melodye Rosales, Renee Graef, and Luanne Roberts


The book opens shortly after the previous one left off. Addy and her mother have just arrived in Philadelphia. Someone is supposed to meet them to help them get settled, but Addy and her mother don't see anyone who might be looking for them. Finally, another mother-daughter pair arrive, having gotten the name of the boat wrong. Sarah Moore and her mother usher Addy and her mother to their church, where a welcome lunch is set for newly-escaped slaves. Mrs. Moore is even able to find a job for Mrs. Walker, as an assistant to an abolitionist seamstress, Mrs. Ford. Mrs. Ford also gives the Walker women the room over her shop. It's small, but it's home. Soon after, Addy gets to go to school for the first time in her life. Sarah helps her learn her letters and numbers, and is a very patient teacher. Addy's teacher assigns her to sit with another girl, Harriet, who has the care-free life Addy dreamed freedom would bring her. Harriet is also very smart, enough to intimidate Addy. Sarah doesn't like Harriet, saying she's stuck-up and thinks she's better than anyone poor, and will try to take advantage of Addy's naivete. Addy, however, looks up to Harriet. But because she wants Harriet to think well of her, Addy is hesitant to ask her for help, and worries she'll fall even further behind with her schooling.

One day after school, Addy arrives home to find Mrs. Walker distraught. Mrs. Ford has left three packages for her to deliver, and Mrs. Walker can't read the addresses, nor does she know her way around the city. Sarah's able to help, and Mrs. Walker laments that she must learn to read or get a new job. Addy has a flash of insight: she'll teach her mother what she's learning in school, and in doing so reinforce her own lessons. They practice math using the beans they cook and use biscuit and cookie dough to form letters.

Addy's still enamored with Harriet, so when Harriet invites Addy to walk home with her group of popular friends, Addy's elated. When she catches up to the girls, they all dump their books in her arms. Apparently she has to be the "flunky" as a sort of initiation/hazing thing. Something about seems wrong to Addy, but she's so eager to please that she goes along with it and Harriet invites Addy to her home the next day to study for the spelling bee, which will be held the day after that. So after school the next day, Addy accepts the pile of books and walks with the girls, disturbed by their classist gossip. When they reach the seamstress shop, the girls abruptly take their books and leave, explaining that they've already finished studying. Addy realizes that Harriet and her friends were treating her like a slave. She goes to bed ashamed.

The next morning, Addy awakes to find that her mother has secretly sewn her a new dress for the spelling bee, using the remnants of the bolts of fabric from the shop. Mrs. Walker is proud of her daughter, and wants her to look her best. Addy's sad to see Sarah miss a word early in the bee, and almost misspells the same word on purpose out of loyalty to Sarah...until Harriet whispers something nasty about Sarah's appearance (her clothes are old and worn since Sarah's family is poor). Addy wants to show Harriet that poor former slave can hold her own. It comes down to Harriet and Addy, and Harriet misspells principle (S in place of C). Addy gets it right, and wins a little pin which looks wonderful on her dress. The teacher dismisses the class for lunch, but Addy lingers at her desk. Sensing what's troubling her, the teacher encourages Addy to talk to Sarah. Addy apologizes and Sarah accepts, and they renew their friendship. 

Looking Back

During America's infancy, it was rare for people of African descent to get a decent education, regardless of free or slave status. Schools were segregated by race, and the non-white schools were far inferior. Things got worse in the 1830s, when some slave states passed laws prohibiting slaves from learning to read or write, for fear they would learn about freedom in the North and forge documents indicating they weren't slaves. Some were still able to learn anyway: some white people would ignore the laws, or slaves might trade for lessons or hide near schoolhouses to learn what they could by eavesdropping. Even in the free North, schools were still segregated (and some remained that way for over a hundred years, until Brown v. Board of Education). The schools available did their best with what resources they had, their students eager to learn.


This book is dedicated to Mr. Zimmerman.

If I for some reason found myself in the 1850s or 1860s, I would love to be able to help escaped slaves like the characters in the book do.

Harriet is described as light-skinned compared to Addy, and comes from a family of free blacks rather than former slaves.

Addy's school is co-ed.

I sew a little, and Addy's mother was lucky to find enough bolt remnants to make a complete outfit, especially all the same fabric. Must have been a few bolts of the same material. Usually bolts have under a yard left on them, and a dress would take a few yards, but not necessarily consecutive yardage; a quarter of a yard here and half a yard there would work.

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