Friday, September 23, 2011

Guy Friday--Jefferson's Sons

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.


  1. Anonymous6:22 AM EDT

    I'm eager to read Jefferson's Sons as well. Thanks for the review.

    When I worked at a K - 8 school, I was on a fixed schedule and saw the entire school once a week. I watched them grow up. I've had quite a few students come back complaining that they hadn't read a book mostly b/c they're too tired! They're in honors classes, sports and clubs and there's no time for books. I will always remember one student: she walked into the library. Threw her arms wide and declared, "I miss the library. I miss you. I miss coming to a place where I can just be." I like being able to let a student just be.

    Happy Friday.

  2. Applause for your "Guy Friday Note." That is soooooo true. The same thing happens in my school.


  3. I still remember my middle school librarian. She was always there to suggest a book. I had never met someone who really cared what I read. This made all the difference. Not only did I read more than ever, I was also reading quality books, books that I connected with, and I had someone to talk to about the books I was reading.

    I so agree about giving in-school time for independent reading, personalizing book suggestions, and making read an expectation. It's amazing how many students never wanted to read a book until they found a few books that made a connection with them.

  4. We need t-shirts! "Certified Random Bookflingers"

  5. Your note should be posted for all PARENTS to see.

    Yes, you, an awesome librarian, do what you can, but parents need to be there, too, to hand books to their high school (and all ages) children.

    While our avid-reader-junior in high school has rarely checked anything out from the school library (he says the selection stinks), he has ample reading options here at home, and from items I get at the public library (often from YOUR recommendations and reviews here on your blog).

    So, you're still 'at work' in our home, even if my kids are no longer in your building!

  6. Anonymous3:28 PM EDT

    Ms. Yingling,

    I'm not sure how I feel about this note at the end. I completely agree with everything you're noting, but I think it's ludicrous to suggest that things like that aren't being done at the high school in your district. Being one of the high school librarians in your district, this seems to take a shot at the work we're doing. First of all, as you should be fully aware, all three high school librarians are avid readers who do their best to recommend books that match student interests. We may not read as widely as you do, but I know I put a lot of time that I should probably be spending with my wife into reading. I've had the same experience as you have with getting kids into books who hadn't read previously.

    Of course, as you note here, reading habits change for many high school students. They certainly changed for me. When students are weighed down by a curriculum that demands real thought and time, unlike anything they've seen in middle school, their priorities change. When they get jobs, and girlfriends, and cars, their priorities change. So, pleasure reading often goes by the wayside. They're expected to read many things for class, so they don't "want to read something else".

    This does NOT mean that when I get an opportunity to book talk or get a question from a kid or see him/her in the stacks or they just look bored, I don't sell the books like a mad man. I ask about interests and have had zero complaints about the recommendations I work hard to give.

    Wlomano, I'm not sure what high school your child goes to, but I can assure you that the selection is strong at all three. Sure, our patrons are different, so we don't have 8 copies of Stormbreaker or some other extremely popular middle age book titles. We have students who scoff at those books, but will pick up a Cormac McCarthy or Joseph Heller and love it. We have wide a range of people we have to serve, so we might not have as many books that serve the particular needs of your student. However, I can assure you that our collections are carefully selected to match the needs and interests of our readers.

    Anyway, like I said, I agree with your sentiments, Ms. Yingling. I just think the implication that this isn't happening in virtually every library, especially our at the high school, is simply false.