Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. Jefferson's Sons.
Beverly has a secret that everyone knows-- he's Thomas Jefferson's son. His mother, Sally Hemmings, tells him to keep it from Jefferson's family and friends even though the slave community is well aware of Beverly and his brothers' and sister's origin. From the time he is young, Beverly knows that he will have to make a choice when he is older. He can remain a slave and stay with his family (all of whom are well-treated because of their connection), or he can move away and pass as a free white man, never seeing his family again. To complicate matters, one brother is too dark to pass and won't have this choice. Following the family's ups and downs for a period of years, describing Jefferson's interactions with them and his greater role in US history, this book gives a good picture of life during this time period from both sides of the slavery issue.
Strengths: Well researched and written, this is a good companion to Rinaldi's Wolf By the Ears, which imagines the story of Harriet Hemmings.
Weaknesses: This would have been a tighter middle grade read if it had focused on fewer years and given more details about Beverly's "transformation" to white. There are a lot of details, which slow the story down.
Guy Friday Note:
Had an interesting conversation with a former student. He was an avid reader and is now a high school junior. He has not checked out a single book in high school. When asked why, he replied "When I would come into the library, you would always offer me books that I knew would be good." Has he even gone to the library at high school and asked for a good book? "They don't force us to read. We don't have Sustained Silent Reading."
*Sigh* Moral of the story-- Not only do we need to provide a time for middle school students to read and compel them to do so, it is essential to suggest good books to them that align with their interests. I had a 6th grade girl yesterday who has read a little more than a book a week. When I commented that she must like to read, she replied "I only started to like reading this year." Why? "I could never find any good books before now." She likes pink, girly books, so usually makes her selections from a front facing row I always have up near the circulation desk.
Personalized selection. It's so important to know the students and what interests them, and to fling random books at reluctant readers until something sticks.
Answer to recent comment: I'm very sorry that one of the high school librarians felt slighted by this comment. That was not in any way my intention. My question to the student ( have you even BEEN to the library?), is where the high school process, to me, is not what it could be. Once the students actually get to the library, I have every confidence that the librarians are doing an amazing job at stocking and getting great books to students.
My issue is with high school language arts classes. Yes, students have a lot more to do in high school, so why make my son, a high school sophomore who has not managed to make it into the library for anything but classes, read The Help and East of Eden? What could interest him less? My daughter, who is a senior, is reading The Canterbury Tales. It seems to me that high school language arts teacher purposefully want to make students dislike reading. Yes, that is an offensive comment, but I have seen first hand how this sort of reading selection makes my own personal children hate reading.
So again, my apologies to high school librarians everywhere. I'm sure that when students come in to the libraries looking for books, you get them great ones. It's too bad that the high school classes and schedule do not get more students into your sphere of influence.