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Jefferson’s Sons

June 8th, 2012 - Posted in Library News -

Jeffersons-Sons-Coverby Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, 360 pages, Grades 6-9

History shows that Thomas Jefferson had a second family with one of the women enslaved on his plantation.  Sally Hemings was the mother of four of Thomas Jefferson’s children:  Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston.  
Bradley’s work of historical fiction uses the president’s sons, Beverly, Madison and Eston, as narrators.  Each eleven year old boy tells his part of the story, so the novel, in three parts, is an adolescent’s point of view.
There are many things that happen on the plantation that are scary and frustrating for the enslaved people who live there; almost nothing is in their control. It is clear that Jefferson’s children are given special privileges for enslaved people: music lessons, work in the house instead of in the field, etc, but, in the end, they are still trapped and controlled by their white master.  The children are never allowed to refer to Jefferson as daddy or papa, but he has promised each of them freedom when they come of age.  Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings hope that those children who are light complected can pass into white society and improve their situations.  This would mean never seeing their mother again; whites and blacks did not freely associate in those days. And what about the children who cannot pass for white?  Will Jefferson’s sons find freedom and find better lives off the plantation?
If you enjoy historical fiction books about people struggling for justice you might also enjoy Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan, or Homeless Bird, by Gloria Whelan.

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