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Wolf by the Ears

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  2,427 Ratings  ·  115 Reviews
Harriet Hemings has always been happy in the comfortable, protected world that is Monticello. She's been well treated there; no one has ever called her a slave. But that is what she is, a slave of a man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. And there are rumors that she might be more than Thomas Jefferson's slave - she might be his daughter.

Now Harriet has to make a c

Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published April 1st 1991)
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Community Reviews

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Cover Blurb: It looks dated, the girl in the front does not at all look how I imagine Harriet. She looks more Hispanic or Latino descent than African; her features aren’t right.

What I Liked: Like all of Rinaldi’s female characters, Harriet is a strong protagonist, doesn’t have an attitude, is intelligent, and feminine without being weak. I was able to appreciate her struggle, thus her indecision didn’t get as annoying as it could have.

What I Disliked: While I liked Harriet well enough, she was p
Jun 18, 2013 Eden rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, reviewed
Harriet Hemings is a slave of Thomas Jefferson's and has been all her life. But she's been well cared for, educated and not worked very hard. In a few short years she'll be 21 and that means she will be free. Harriet doesn't want to go, doesn't want to leave her home. How could she? She loves it there, but Harriet soon realizes taking her freedom will be for the best. And so she begins to prepare for her leaving when she turns 21.

This is a historical fiction book about Harriet Hemings, who histo
Dec 05, 2008 Leslie rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This book is a historical fiction book about a slave girl, Harriet Hemmings, at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's plantation). She is the slave daughter of Thomas Jefferson. (The author says that Thomas Jefferson had several children with a slave woman after his wife died, but I haven't looked into history to know if this is true or not.)

The author creates a very intersting character in Thomas Jefferson. He is portrayed as someone who does not like slavery or even believe in it, but he owns many s
Mar 14, 2015 grace rated it really liked it
"We have the wolf by the ear and feel the danger of neither holding or letting him loose."
- Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, 18 July 1824
To me, this book was kind of inspirational. I was impressed with how strong Harriet was as a character. I loved that she was such a meaningful female protagonist and that her devotion to Jefferson came so naturally. Jefferson was a very intriguing character, especially since history has a way of immortalizing our presidents and "famous people", it was good to see
Jun 05, 2012 Ellen rated it it was ok
Despite liking Time Enough for Drums and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, I could not trudge my whole way through Wolf by the Ears. In this book, Rinaldi attempts to tell the tale of Harriet Hemmings, presumed illegitimate daughter of Thomas Jefferson and one of his slaves, Sally. It seemed as if she tried too hard to dance around the controversy of Thomas Jefferson being a respected father of our country and yet a slave holder who apparently was an adulterer with his "servant." The book also ...more
May 06, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it
Heather Stewart
Historical Fiction
This is the story of Harriet Hemings who believed she was the illegitimate child of Thomas Jefferson. She is a slave at Monticello but is treated very kindly by the “master”. Her mother will not say outright that he is their father. When Harriet turns 21 she will be given her freedom papers and allowed to leave there forever as a free woman. She doesn’t want to leave Monticello but she knows that if she stays and Mr. Jefferson dies she may be sold and continue to
Bridget R. Wilson
Written before the conclusive DNA testing that proved Thomas Jefferson did have children with his slave Sally Hemings, Rinaldi's book explores the struggle of Sally's daughter Harriet to understand who she is. She is a light-skinned slave. There are rumors that the master is her father. Her freedom is guaranteed at age 21, but does she dare to take it? Her options are to stay on the plantation where she surely will be married to another slave, to leave the plantation as a free nigra, or to leave ...more
Jul 09, 2011 Casey rated it it was amazing
Very well written and so sad that Harriet Hemings was treated as a slave though she was mostly white. It just shows how far the 'masters' of the time had convinced themselves that slavery was right. They were such hypocrites. Saying white blood was the best, while many of the white men were sleeping with their slaves and producing children who were a part of both worlds but belonging to neither. It's horrid.
But the book was great.
Jul 27, 2016 Deb rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: youth & folks who usually find history books boring
This was my first Ann Rinaldi book. It was sooo good that I have gone on to read every book of hers I can find. It is written with youth in mind. Many of her books tell the back story to famous men's lives through their daughters.

Narrated in the first person by Harriet, daughter of the slave,
Sally Hemings of Monticello, this story presents serious historical fiction at the YA level. Meticulously researched by author Rinaldi--who excels in this genre, the book was inspired by a quote from the author of the acclaimed Declaration of Independence. Jefferson himself agonized over the institution of Slavery, describing it as a wolf by the ears, which the country could not handle safely, yet without wh
Jonathan Bradley
Um, it was good. It felt much quieter than the other books I've read; in terms of plot it was very placid, with almost all the action taking place inside Harriet's head. This was a feature of A Break With Charity, as well, but it shares with Time Enough For Drums an ever-precipitating social crisis unfolding in the background.

It would be worthwhile, I think, to read this alongside The Hemingses of Monticello — which I haven't read. At times I found myself unable to trust the history quite so re
Katherine Basto
Jul 23, 2016 Katherine Basto rated it really liked it
I liked this book by Ann Rinaldi;It was filled with lots of folk wisdom and anguished insights. I learned a great deal of what it was like to be the reputed daughter of Thomas Jefferson by his slave Sally Heming. What it must feel like to leave your home to "pass" as a white woman. Leaving both her black and white family behind in order to better her station in life.Harriet's ambivalence about being a slave yet the daughter of the writer of the "Declaration of Independence" comes through strong ...more
Rebecca Radnor
Harriet and her siblings are the children of Sally Hemings a slave, yet hold a special place in the household of Thomas Jefferson. None of the Hemings siblings consider themselves to be truly slaves: all are educated by a private tutor, they are given only light duties, they have full access to Jefferson's library, and all have been promised their freedom when they turn 21. They know that this is because they are probably Jefferson's children, and yet he never publicly recognizes them as such an ...more
May 10, 2014 Dawn rated it liked it
Meh. More of an 'I'm so bored, I just read every book fifty times and my room is clean and vacuumed and my schoolwork is done and my Spanish vocab is studied and I have no stories to invent and my friends are busy and my mom is working and it's raining so Ii have to stay inside and my brothers are programming and my sister is still brushing her hair and my piano practice is done and I've memorized Frozen and drawn portraits of random people and written in my journal and read the scriptures and s ...more
Kathy Miles
Aug 04, 2016 Kathy Miles rated it really liked it
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Books Kids Like
Oct 06, 2013 Books Kids Like rated it really liked it
Shelves: rinaldi-ann
Harriet Hemings lives in the comfortable and protected world of Monticello. She is the daughter of Thomas Jefferson’s slave, Sally Hemings. Many suspect that Harriet and four of her siblings are Thomas Jefferson’s children as they all have red hair and very light skin. The eldest, Thomas, has already left the plantation and passed himself off as a white man. Beverly will be the next to leave. When Jefferson refuses to send him to the university, Beverly steals a horse and runs away. Harriet know ...more
Sarah Crawford
Feb 03, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it
This is another historical book by Ann Rinaldi. In this case, it deals with a girl named Harriet Hemings who's mother is black. Her father, though, seems to have been Thomas Jefferson. Harriet is brought up in the best manner possible with a decent education. She lives in the main house and not with the slaves. She also happens to be very light-skinned.

She has various things she has to figure out. Is Thomas Jefferson really her father? (She adores him, actually). When she gets to be 21, will sh
May 02, 2009 Kristen rated it liked it
While I can’t say that Rinaldi’s book hit my “favorites” list, I did thoroughly enjoy it, and was compelled to get to the last page. This historical fiction novel follows the story of Harriet Hemmings, the supposed illegitimate daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Throughout the book we see her struggle with her identity, not knowing if Thomas Jefferson is really her father, and not feeling like she fits fully into the white or nigra world. Most of the book focuses around Harriet herself, as opposed to ...more
Jan 27, 2015 Hannah rated it really liked it
Shelves: historic
This book began bland to me, but it quickly started getting better after the first fifty pages. Like all of Ann Rinaldi's historical fiction that I have read, A Wolf By the Ears was a very well written novel. Before this, I had never heard of Thomas Jefferson's supposed children with one of his slaves. Although I have learned he in fact did not father Sally Heming's children, the topic still intrigued me greatly.

This was the first time I had ever read about a clearly white person living as a sl
Jul 03, 2010 Kellyann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, history
Historical novel about a daughter of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. I love the way Rinaldi explores the various options available to mixed-race folks (passing or not passing, being part of a supportive community or moving away to seek financial and social upward-mobility) without judging. Also just really good psychologically; imagine what it would be like to be the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, but also legally his slave! Rinaldi also illustrates some of the contradictions of Jefferson: he ...more
This is the first book by Ann Rinaldi that I have ever finished. I love history but usually her writing style is not as enjoyable to me.
This is the story of Harriet Hemmings the daughter of Sally Hemmings. This is the story of her transition from slave to when she leaves. I'll be honest. While Ann Rinaldi has very creative ideas, usually her books are boring to me because the action, romance and anything else that I really like is almost no existent. This book is no exception. The only thing th
Gretchen Widdison
Jun 13, 2013 Gretchen Widdison rated it did not like it
This book took me over a year to finish. I bought this as one of my classroom checkout books. I thought the concept was interesting, and it brought up some interesting historical facts. However the book wasn't very exciting. I kept waiting for something to happen, which it never did. The book focuses on the main characters internal conflicts and deals a lot with her being wishy washy about her feelings and her desires for her future. When it finally got to the part I was waiting for the book end ...more
May 09, 2012 Linda rated it liked it
Harriet Hemings and her brothers, children of Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, have reason to believe that their father was Thomas Jefferson himself (a question which has been dealt with in biographies and novels before). This is Harriet's story of her years between age 19 and 21, when she ponders whether to stay at Monticello, which she loves, as a slave, or to be given her freedom and to pass as a white woman. Ann Rinaldi writes historical novels for middle/high school ages; this one was ...more
Feb 15, 2013 Regina rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-childhood
This is an interesting and entirely fictitious look at the Hemmings family and Thomas Jefferson's views on slavery. It's told in diary format by our narrator Harriet, who may or may not be the enslaved daughter of Thomas Jefferson. (I think this was written before the DNA testing was done-most historians now agree that he was very likely the father of Harriet and her siblings.) I felt that it handled some complex moral issues well without being judgmental or preachy. Harriet is there to narrate ...more
Feb 26, 2008 Rachael rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anybody who loves history
Recommended to Rachael by: no one I found it under my mom's bed (in the bins where we keep
Ok so it is really good. And mostly true too, well I guess that's the meaning of "historical fiction". It's about ,Harriet Hemmings the daughter of Sally Hemmings who was Thomas Jefferson's "mistress". (because it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry)The stuff you learn about slavery is good, and it really shows how this girl must have felt- not knowing who her father was, but yet having a man TREAT her like his daughter but not being able to tell the world about it. The only bad part abou ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
This book is about the daughter of Sally Hemmings, who was believed to be the black mistress of Thomas Jefferson. The interesting thing about that is Sally was nearly white, and her children had seven out of eight grandparents white and one black. Enough in that day to declare yourself white. But they were owned and slaves. Thomas Jefferson felt torn about slaverey, hence the title of the book, I like this story, told from Harriet, Sally's only surviving daughter. Ann Rinaldi based the story as ...more
Children's Literature Project
Grade Level Equivalent: 6

Summary: This historical fiction story focuses on the life of slave, Harriet Hemings. Rumors fly throughout Monticello that Harriet is the daughter of her master, Thomas Jefferson. Harriet must decide if she takes her chances and runs away to obtain freedom, or stay with her mother and the loving home she's only known her entire life.

Lesson Integration: This story can be used to explore the controversial aspects of slavery. This theme can be integrated into the Civil Wa
Maya Rock
Jul 20, 2007 Maya Rock rated it liked it
This is one of Ann Rinaldi's better books. Thomas Jefferson's mulatta daughter must decide whether to join the white world or not. Joining the white world means leaving her family behind. Unlike that other woman's incredibly romantic more famous Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings book, I feel this book tries to keep it real.

You have to wonder what is going on w/this guy though to take up w/a 14 year old girl and then proceed to have so many kids with her and be in the political spotlight. I guess fa
Apr 19, 2008 Sarah rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, ya, historical
I re-read this book recently, and was a bit dissapointed. I remembered it fondly from when I was a teenager and expected to enjoy it just as much as an adult. Reading it now, the writing seemed flat and the view of slavery seemed not glorified persay, but not entirely true to reality. Perhaps it is that I am use to reading adult novels that offer a more harsh description of slavery and the Civil War, but I'm not sure that I beleive it being a novel for young adults should detract from it's need ...more
Diane Bell
Mar 08, 2011 Diane Bell rated it really liked it
A good, well-researched story of the daughter of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. It is, of course, a historical fiction book of necessity, since there are no known facts about the Sally Hemings children, except that they existed and did cross over into the white world. I liked how it talked about the conflict in all of the characters, and it was interesting to learn more about Thomas Jefferson and his struggle to find a resolution between justice and slavery. Well written, with good characte ...more
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Ann Rinaldi (b. August 27, 1934, in New York City) is a young adult fiction author. She is best known for her historical fiction, including In My Father's House, The Last Silk Dress, An Acquaintance with Darkness, A Break with Charity, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons. She has written a total of forty novels, eight of which were listed as notable by the ALA. In 2000, Wolf by the Ears was lis ...more
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“Words said can never be recalled. So it is best, oftimes, not to speak too quickly. Yet words left unsaid are worse. We wear them like weights around our hearts.” 1 likes
“The house was so quiet, as if everyone had been spirited out of sight. I had a feeling of moving through time itself. I saw myself as a small, scurrying animal rushing into my future. But I was not afraid.” 0 likes
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