Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Words By Heart” as Want to Read:
Words By Heart
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Words By Heart

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  273 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Lena can recite the Scriptures by heart. Hoping to make her adored Papa proud of her and to make her white classmates notice her "Magic Mind," not her black skin, Lena vows to win the Bible-quoting contest. But winning does not bring Lena what she expected. Instead of honor, violence and death erupt and strike the one she loves most dearly. Lena, who has believed in vengea ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published January 1st 1997 by Yearling (first published 1979)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Words By Heart, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Words By Heart

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
May 10, 2010 K. rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 13, 2011 Sonila rated it liked it
“Words by heart” is a story about an African American girl named Lena who moved with her family to the south to start a new life because they wanted to avoid being discriminated. She entered a bible quoting contest because she wanted her family to be proud of her. But she doesn’t get what she expected. Instead, Lena loses the one she loves the most so she wants to rake revenge, but she already made a promise that she wasn’t going to break. I really liked this book because it teaches people that ...more
Dec 16, 2011 Lola rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one who enjoys well written historical fiction
Recommended to Lola by: My 8th grade English teacher
Okay, so here's a theory I've been working on: schools are secretly conspiring to turn all children against reading forever. And why do I think this, you may ask. Well, I'm going to tell you. Because teachers wouldn't assign such mind numbingly boring books without knowing the consequences. For example, a close friend of mine was recently assigned The Odyssey for Honors English. This friend usually enjoys myths from all cultures, but this was just too much for her in such a short time span. It ...more
May 17, 2012 Jean rated it it was amazing
I was shelving books and came across this little book that had somehow wandered far away from where it was supposed to be. I'm so glad. What a beautifully written book about love and forgiveness.
Chris you may be inspired or discouraged by the fact that it took the author 35 years to get published.
Those of you who are easily bored by my ramblings (that should probably include all of you)may quit reading now, because I have a lot of lovely quotes from the book that I want to include for my own sel
Dec 04, 2007 Tuong rated it really liked it
It is impressive and moving about the waves of life. Lena was a poor little girl, who lived with hope and the pride of her father. Their family was moved from the South for avoiding the discrimination and starting the new life, but the hardship did not let them go. They must struggle with it and contempt from the folks. They are too small and, the burden of this world was too big. Lena's father was injured dead from facing with a white folk. Leba wanted to revenge, but having her father's wish s ...more
Dayna Smith
A touching story of a black family trying to make a new life amongst a white population in the early 1900's. Lena thinks that by winning the Scripture recitation contest she will finally have others notice her for her abilities rather than the color of her skin. After winning the Bible-quoting contest she finds it doesn't bring her the attention she expects or wants. After violence breaks out, Lena, who believes in vengeance, must learn to forgive. This book does use the "n" word as it was used ...more
Sep 18, 2008 Hina rated it it was amazing
I read this book in 6th grade and I remember it like yesterday. This book took my young six-grader-emotions for a ride. I was furious one moment and crying the next. It's a simple read which is why I enjoyed it so much as a 6th grader. Could I have been as Lina was? I don't know. I learned then that books can really take you places. I can honestly say that from the moment I read the last page of 'Words By Heart', reading became fun.
Jan 03, 2016 Tara rated it liked it
Shelves: kidsbooks, re-read
Re-read this for the first time since middle school. Noticed its lack of subtlety this time around. The 12yo narrator had unrealistically canny insight into her own life, which made her less of a living character and more of a vehicle for the story's themes. The over-explaining is slightly more forgivable since it's a children's book.

There were some great parts though--maybe she just needed a better editor.
Aug 27, 2011 Abby rated it liked it
Lena wants to be accepted and exceptional in a culture that resists giving her a place in their society. She strives for recognition, and she fights for what is right. The book gives us some simply beautiful scenes and themes. I loved when Lena and Winslow recited from John 14, alternating the verses, like a song--a beautiful moment. And then the theme of loving your enemies, told in such a poignant way. It's a beautiful story.
Rec. by Ann Voskamp. Vowing to gain her father's approval and her white classmates' respect by winning a Bible-quoting contest, Lena, an African-American girl, is horrified when her success brings violence and death to her home. Christian content is strong but not overwhelming or overly simplistic.
Jul 19, 2012 Kristin rated it it was ok
I think my expectations were too high considering how much I enjoyed "The Girl in the Box" by this same author. This book did not hold my interest nearly as much. It was a decent read, shouldn't have taken me as long as I did.

This is the story of Lena who learns about prejudice after winning a scripture-reciting contest at her school.
Nov 14, 2014 Stephanie rated it liked it
I read this back in the Summer of 2005. I wanted to read it because it was on the Summer Reading list. I remember it was a good book. There is a movie made but I didn't like the movie as much as the book.
Kathy Runyon
Jun 05, 2013 Kathy Runyon rated it it was amazing
This book was gut wrenching. The characters were well written and the truth taught in the pages of this fictional work flies in the face of today's conventional "wisdom" about racial issues. This book will challenge you deeply. Worth every minute that I spent reading this great story.
May 20, 2011 Edy rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I love the ideas that are presented in it. This was one of the selections that I taught to my middle school kiddos when I was a classroom teacher. I read it several times, and each time I found it both enjoyable and thought provoking.
Savana D
This book was really really good. It had a very positive message which I thought was know who you are. Be yourself. Also I think it had a valuable message about death. Everyone dies at some point in time. If someone you know and love dies, you have to move on in life no matter how much it hurts.
Nov 24, 2011 Shantel rated it it was amazing
My 4th grader is reading this as a companion novel to The Secret Garden. Both books are about change,both internally and in the world. I read this so I could help my Son in class discussion and I really loved it. Be sure to grab a box of tissues.
Meadow Frisbie
Nov 13, 2009 Meadow Frisbie rated it really liked it
When a little African-American is constantly shunned by her white classmates, she is determined to win the Bible verse contest to gain their respect.

This was a real eye opener to what it was like for African-American's back then. It does have a sad ending though. :(
Jenn Cherry
Jun 14, 2011 Jenn Cherry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: roc, gjc, bookclub
VERY good read aloud - not an easy read with the kids, but very well written - we thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Jan 14, 2016 Christian rated it liked it
Read aloud during a road trip. Some fun moments, especially with the very young characters. The first two chapters were the tightest.
Sheila  Summerhays
Aug 09, 2009 Sheila Summerhays rated it it was amazing
Forgiveness is often hard. Lena's father tells her to do more than just memorize scriptures. She need to live those words as well. Beautifully written.
Jul 28, 2009 Ashley rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
More to come, but this book made me cry. Lena has some incredible strength. More than I think I could find in her shoes.
Oct 17, 2008 Ebby rated it really liked it
I'm currently previewing a donated box of discarded summer reading books before I let my 9-15 yr. old girls loose on them. This one I read all the way through, with a handy box of tissues.
Dec 05, 2008 Laurel rated it it was ok
I think this is the worse book I've read about how the African Americans were treated. It had a depressing ending and I mostly felt sorry that I'd read it, not for the characters.
Apr 11, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing
I have read this several times. Both the story and the language are beautiful. It is one of my all time favorites.
Jun 10, 2015 Bryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
powerfully written, though simple, this book tells a heartbreaking story of black lives in the jim crow west. recommend for all young adults.
Jul 20, 2008 Julie added it
Annotation: Lena tries to excel by memorizing all of the Scriptures for a contest but after she wins she learns about racism in the new town they live in where they are the only black family.
Feb 04, 2011 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This a YA novel or children's book, but the content is very dark and the language is quite mature. A very good book but quite sad in the end.
Kevin Fogarty
Kevin Fogarty rated it it was amazing
Mar 28, 2014
Livi rated it it was ok
Jan 20, 2008
Peggy Mcdonald
Peggy Mcdonald rated it really liked it
May 21, 2009
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
  • Christie's Old Organ (Rare Collector's Series)
  • Waiting for the Rain
  • Stealing Freedom
  • Jessica's First Prayer
  • The Night Swimmers
  • The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine
  • A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw
  • The Court of Stone Children
  • Black Storm Comin'
  • The Friendship
  • The Liberation of Gabriel King
  • The Seventeenth Swap
  • Carver: A Life in Poems
  • The Trial
  • Journey Through the Night
  • A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
  • Gray Dawn
Ouida Sebestyen, nee Dockery, was born February 13, 1924, in Vernon, TX. She married Adam Sebestyen in 1960 and had one son. She attended the U. of Colorado. She began writing at age eighteen, but did not publish her first book, Words by Heart until 1979. Part of this novel had originally appeared as a short story in the magazine 'Ingenue' in 1968. The book was well received, and Ms. Sebestyen has ...more
More about Ouida Sebestyen...

Share This Book