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Midnight Teacher:

Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School


By Janet Halfmann

Illustrated by London Ladd

Lee & Low Books

Ages 6+, Nonfiction Picture Book, hardcover

Buy this book at your favorite indie bookseller, Bookshop, or

JANET TAKES YOU INSIDE THE BOOK! Click here for the video.

Midnight Teacher jacket front cover copy



2022: Selected for NYC Dept of Ed's new Mosaic Core Curriculum Program

Teachers' Choices 2019 Reading List: International Literacy Association

2019 Carter G. Woodson Honor Award: National Council for Social Studies

2019 Storytelling World Resource Honor Award

Kirkus Starred Review

New York Public Library Best Books of 2018

Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books 2018

Eureka! Honor Award for Excellence in Nonfiction: California Reading Assoc.

Skipping Stones Honor Award

Silver Parents' Choice Award

On Six Recommended Reading Lists of Social Justice Books, Teaching for Change

Featured for February in 2018-19 NEA Read Across America Calendar!


The Story

In Mississippi in the mid-1800s, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write. Getting caught meant thirty-nine lashes with a whip as punishment. But this did not stop Lilly Ann Granderson. She believed in the power of education.


To share her knowledge with others, Lilly Ann started a midnight school. In a small cabin hidden in a back alley, she held her school classes. Every noise in the dark was a reminder of the punishment Lilly Ann and her students faced if they were found out. But the chance to learn was worth the risk. 


Over the years, Lilly Ann taught hundreds of enslaved people to read and write. Many of her students went on to share their knowledge with their families. Some started secret schools of their own. Others forged passes to escape to freedom in the North.

Based on a true story, "Midnight Teacher" is an inspiring testament to a little-known pioneer in education.

My Inspiration

I am always on the lookout for stories about people who have achieved amazing things, but whose stories have been lost to history—especially the stories of minorities. That the enslaved were denied the right to learn to read and write has long bothered me, so I sought out stories about early secret schools and their teachers. Lilly Ann Granderson was such a teacher. I was especially intrigued that she was known as the Midnight Teacher because she held her secret classes from midnight until two in the morning, and I thought kids would find this fascinating, too. All accounts I found about this teacher ended shortly after the Civil War, so I am honored to have had the opportunity to flesh out her amazing and inspiring story and share it with the world.

Educational Connections

Extensive FREE Teacher's Guide, RIF support activities, and themes, at Lee & Low's page for the book

Afterword, Selected References, and Quotation Sources at end of book

Author Janet Halfmann on Lilly Ann Granderson's Legacy: The Open Book

"The Midnight Teacher" Student Literature Study: $3.50 (Teachers Pay Teachers)


*"An unsung hero and literacy champion whose teaching changed many lives. Halfmann and Ladd tell the remarkable, true story of Lilly Ann Granderson, an enslaved woman born around 1821 in Petersburg, Virginia. . .An informative afterward and biolioraphy will make this a useful addition to U.S. history lessons. An excellent homage to an African-American woman who taught ahead of her time."—(Star) Kirkus Reviews

"A winning tribute to Lilly Ann Granderson, the Midnight Teacher . . . . VERDICT A top choice for any library serving elementary school-aged children."—School Library Journal

"Halfmann tells the powerful story of Lilly Ann Granderson, an enslaved woman who 'believed the path to freedom was through education.' Ladd's rich, naturalistic acrylic-and-pencil images depict Granderson's upbringing in Kentucky, where she learned to read and write in secret, then shared her knowledge with other children. The painful but uplifting narrative may spark readers' curiosity about other enslaved individuals whose stories have not yet been told."—Publishers Weekly

""Halfmann pens the perfect record of Granderson's phenomenal legacy from educating slaves to graduating students at the Natchez Seminary (now Jackson State University) and influencing generations, especially her own family's who were the first to graduate from Spelman Seminary (now Spelman College). Midnight Teacher is a gift with clear storytelling of a heroic educator."

—The Drum Newspaper

"This inspiring true story, told in a straightforward style, provides good context, explaining why owners feared the education of the enslaved, and that, despite the danger to Lilly . . , and the hundreds of her fellow Afrian Americans she impacted, it was worth risking punishment and sacrificing sleep. The full-page earth-toned acrylic and colored-pencil illustrations depict the full drama, danger, and determination—and are followed by an afterword, references, and quotation sources."—Booklist

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