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The Slave Dancer

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  7,315 ratings  ·  319 reviews
"Take up the pipe, Claudius," a voice growled near Jessie's bound head. "He's worth nothing without his pipe!"

Snatched from the docks of New Orleans, thirteen-year-old Jessie is thrown aboard a slave ship where he must play his fife so that captured slaves will "dance," to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable for their owners' use.

Jessie is sickened as he
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (first published 1973)
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O. Ouellette
Mar 09, 2012 O. Ouellette rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all children, people who want to read more than just fluff
Book readers everywhere, please stay your hand (ALWAYS) and think for a moment before denouncing any book as "horrible," "uninteresting," or rating it a 1 or 2, regardless of your age or experience with reading. It is a shame that this book gets such low ratings from some just because its subject matter is serious or because the book itself is deemed "boring" or "not your thing." I see a terrible lack of patience, perseverance and open-mindedness in so many readers, young and old, and that is ve ...more
Kyle Pratt
Jan 25, 2013 Kyle Pratt rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adolescent or young adult readers
Shelves: fiction
I teach reading to both Junior and Senior high school students so I am always looking for superior adolescent literature. The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox, winner of the Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1974, is a good choice.

The novel, set in 1840, revolves around Jesse Boller, a teenage boy from New Orleans. Because Jessie enjoys playing the fife, he is kidnapped and forced to work on The Moonlight, a slave ship. His job is to play the fife
I probably shouldn't even say I read this book, because I got only to page 78 and then gave up. I have spent the last 5 years in children's libraries looking at books trying to decide what to read and/or purchase. I always thought this looked like a good one, after all, it is a Newberry Medal book. I picked this up because my daughter was studying the Transatlantic Slave Trade in school and I wanted a novel to read about the same topic. We began to read it together, aloud. The first two chapters ...more
A powerful historical fiction book...maybe a little too intense for younger readers, but highly educational and masterfully written. The Newbery is well-deserved. I don't think many elementary-aged students would be able to grasp fully the complexity of the characters and their relationships in this novel--Fox explores the dark depths of human nature and human psychology--but I'm so glad she didn't give us a watered-down version of this period in American history.
Linda Lipko
This 1974 Newbery Medal award winning book is by far the most compelling, graphic and intensely dark Newbery I've read. Having said this, you may wonder why I highly recommend this dark tale full of vivid, violent details.

The answer is simply this: Slavery was abhorrently wrong and this book captures the gruesomeness of the slave trade without stopping to the real temptation of pounding home a truth to the point wherein the reader closes the pages. Never exploiting the power of the evil, but hon
Phil Jensen
An abducted ship's boy endures a harrowing and brutal voyage on a slave ship during the infamous Middle Passage. The characters are subtly drawn and complexly ambiguous. The morality, legality, and business aspects of slaving are explained. I loved the intelligence and pacing of this novel.

The question is: Who would put this book in their classroom? It's so horrific and realistic that anyone younger than a 7th grader would get nightmares from it. Furthermore, it's the most recent Newbery I can t
Jack. S
Recently I read the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox. I think that this book was very good in it's own way. In social studies we learned about slaves 2 chapters ago and I think it's interesting that this described what they went through perfectly. Although I don't recommend it's cussing (the n word) over and over and it's gruesomeness. I found it interesting because I never imagined the pain someone can go through by the hands of another person. They also tell you something you (or just me) ne ...more
This won the Newbery Medal in 1974 and is by far the heaviest novel I've read in my still-in-progress exploration of 1970s Newbery winners.

The protagonist is Jessie, a white boy who is kidnapped from his home in 1840s New Orleans to be part of the crew on a slave ship. He is taken because he can play the fife, and someone is needed to provide music for the slaves to dance to during their journey (to keep up their health and reduce the appalling death rate). It takes Jessie a while to realize the
This has got to be the most depressing book I have ever read. I had to slog through an incredible amount of graphic violence and senseless brutality before the main character encountered even a scrap of kindness. The author doesn't candy coat life on a slave ship in the least. She doesn't spare her readers any details of what life was like for the crew or the slaves. I don't know why this book won the Newbery, it isn't even appropriate for children. I could see how maybe a high school history te ...more
Fox, Paula; Keith, Eros; The Slave Dancer, Bradbury Press,1973, historical fiction, 5th - 8th, rate: 4.5, lexile 970L

The story is set in 1840. The main character, Jessie, is about 13 years old and can play the fife. One day he is kidnapped and it taken aboard a slave ship. His role is to play the fife for the slaves they capture so the slaves will stay in “shape” and look decent to sell. Jessie witnesses what the slaves have to endure and the horrible conditions they are forced to live in.

I rate
"You have no idea how much you can get used to".

―Benjamin Stout, The Slave Dancer, P. 24

One just gets a feeling about certain books. Even before reading them, it's as if one can already sense the magnitude of the story, can tell that the reading experience about to be had is so big and important that simply by encountering it firsthand, one has charted new personal territory, has plugged into a culture of great literature that extends back through human history further than we know. The Slave
Jesse Bollier is a thirteen-year-old boy living in New Orleans in 1840 when slave traders hear him playing his fife on the wharf. They kidnap Jesse and take him on their ship The Moonlight, where he is to play his fife for exercise periods for the slaves so that they will be in good physical condition when they reach the U.S. and can be sold at auction. Jesse is horrified at the treatment of the slaves and the behaviors of the ship’s crew. He is especially aware of a young boy about his own age ...more
Jan 24, 2011 Jill rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mature 13+
Shelves: newbery-medal
Of all the Newbery's I've read so far I have to say this was the most disturbing and emotionally difficult to read. Rightly so considering the subject matter. It is a powerful portrayal of the cruelty on the part of a ship captain and the pain and suffering the captives, mainly, but also the crew had to endure.

"You'll see some bad things, but if you didn't see them, they'd still be happening so you might as well."

"As I sat there on the narrow little bench, breathing in the close clay-like smell


That single adjective came to me in the first chapter and seldom left, even in the final paragraph of the book.

A somber mood, however, is necessary to tell this story of the slave trade in the 1840’s and of those who conducted it. Young Jessie Bollier is kidnapped near his mother’s small house in New Orleans for the sole purpose of playing his fife for the slaves to “dance” in their shackles during their transport on a slave ship. Dancing, of course, is not for their pleasure, but
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Kathryn Reeder
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This is a very well-written book. I am unhappy because of all the not-great reviews it is getting. However, it was definitely not what I expected, so some of those reviews are understandable. Once you get into this story, though, it is VERY hard to put down. There are some violent scenes, but , being told through a child's eyes, it's not as bad as it could be. The main character, Jessie, is a boy from the South who lives with his mother and sister. He loves to wander the city playing his fife, e ...more
Leila Brooke
I am still in the middle of reading this book, and I have to say, I really am enjoying it so far.Lots of people I know do not enjoy reading this book, mostly because they either think it's too boring or too wordy. I agree, that there are many hard words in this book, and whenever I read it I actually keep a dictionary beside me, but I think this would be enjoyable to a person who likes historical books.
I wouldn't actually recommend this book to just anyone, however, because it does tend to get
Well written and powerful, this story of a boy kidnapped from New Orleans and taken on a slave ship does not shrink from portraying the horror of the Middle Passage (or, though not discussed as much, the horror of slavery writ large). The prose is carefully crafted and I admire the book, but I was kept a little at a distance because of the choice to have the protagonist be a white person. That's one valid way of telling this story, but that authorial decision maintained the enslaved people as an ...more
Tabi Lancina
This book is about a thirteen year old white boy who is kidnapped and taken onto an African American slave ship where he is forced to play music for the slaves. He is taken from his world of freedom and witnesses first hand what it was like for black people in that time. This is a good book for kids to understand how privileged they are to have freedom and to also learn about the history of slavery, even though it isn't a true story, it is very realistic. I think this book would be good to read ...more
Ruth E.
1974 Newbery winner - Author/illustrator Paula Fox - The story of a young boy who is kidnapped and taken on a slave ship to Africa. The slaves will be brought back to America for sale. His job is to play a flute to so the slaves will dance for exercise. This is the story of his journey there and back. The ship is ship-wrecked and the only surviviors is the young boy,Jessie Bollier, and a young African boy. They end up in Mississippi rescued by a runaway slave who send the young black boy on the ...more
It's unusual to find a great book for children about slavery and the slave trade, and you wouldn't want to read this to very young children, but older children and youth will find this sobering tale captivating.

Jessie is a thirteen year old who is kidnapped from the docks of New Orleans to play his fife on a slave ship, so the captured slaves will dance (with their chains on) to maintain their muscle tone and thereby bring more profit when auctioned on the slave market. It's definitely worthwhi
Emily Horn
I do think it's important for children to learn about the history and through a child's story is probably the best way to do it. I did not like the illustrations in this book, they were hard and coarse to me. I didn't want to look at them and they didn't seem like real life. While the illustrator may have been trying to convey through the pictures that it was a hard life because of the way he drew it, it just didn't jive for me. The story itself it powerful but the illustration for me took away ...more
L Frost
I almost gave this 4 stars but it was slow for the first half of the book so I only gave 3. Even though it won the Newbery, I don't think I would have any student younger than at least 6th grade read this book. It's historical fiction so many of the details and language are hard to digest. The "n" word is used multiple times by the crew. Even though that's historically accurate, it's difficult as a reader in the 21st century to repeat the word that often even in your mind. There are a couple of ...more
Emma Hoyer
Literature Requirement: **1974 Newberry Award Winner**

(SPOILERS OFF THE PORT BOW!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

I’m sad to say that I’m only giving this book 3 stars. I was hoping that I would like this book enough to give it 4 or 5 stars, but I’m kind of disappointed with it. While I was reading, I kept feeling very confused, as if some details were missing in the logical procession of the plot. There were times where something would happen, and I would either scoff at how unrealistic I found i
I'm really getting to be a fan of Paula Fox - this is the second of her novels that I've read in the last month or so. The other, "Desperate Characters", was aimed at adults, and this one is geared primarily towards young adolescents. The story takes place in 1840 and the narrator is a sympathetically portrayed 13-year-old New Orleans boy called Jessie, who's kidnapped from the docks and forced to work on a slave ship, hauling buckets of waste and playing the fife while the captive Africans are ...more
Katharine Ott
"In a hinged wooden box upon the top of which was carved a winged fish, my mother kept the tools of her trade." Another Newbery Medal recipient (1974)and another winner of a book. In "The Slave Dancer," Paula Fox writes a grim, but gripping story detailing a horrific voyage of the slaver "The Moonlight." Young Jessie is press-ganged from his neighborhood in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans and endures several months of appalling treatment as he is put to work on the sorry ship.

This story takes pla
I couldn't get much of a grip on the main character, Jessie, until the part called "The Spaniard.” It clicked when someone asked him how he felt about slavery and he responded, "I don't know." I'm not entirely sure why, but suddenly his character clicked. Maybe it's because he didn't have a perfect answer, like he definitely would've in any other story. His character had very human flaws. But I feel like Fox didn’t add as much of Jessie’s emotions and thoughts as she could’ve at parts that reall ...more
Intrigued as it was a Newberry book and one that I had never heard of before, I had no prejudgments to go upon as I started to read The Slave Dancer. This book is dark and shows the cruelty of slavery which I found difficult for being a Newberry book. Sure, it was 1974 Newberry winner but some of the descriptions of the cruelty and the conditions the slaves were exposed to, should only be for the mature reader. The slaves do not have clothing or have minimum clothing and Jessie is taken back by ...more
"I danced the slaves under Stout's watchful eye...But in truth I was so agitated I could hardly make my fingers work on the fife...I could not help but see the wretched shambling men and women whose shoulders sank and rose in exhausted imitation of movement."

Let me just start out by telling you that some literary critics believe that the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox is inappropriate reading for the Junior High grade level due to the violent nature of the story. The plot focuses on a distur
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Paula Fox is an American author of novels for adults and children and two memoirs. Her novel The Slave Dancer (1973) received the Newbery Medal in 1974; and in 1978, she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal. More recently, A Portrait of Ivan won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 2008.

A teenage marriage produced a daughter, Linda, in 1944. However, given the tumultuous relationship wit
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“You'll see some bad things, but if you didn't see them, they'd still be happening.” 32 likes
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