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Jefferson's Sons

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  2,343 ratings  ·  451 reviews
The untold story of Thomas Jefferson's slave children

Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston are Thomas Jefferson's children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and while they do get special treatment - better work, better shoes, even violin lessons - they are still slaves, and are never to mention who their father is. The lighter-skinned children have been promised a chance
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Dial (first published September 1st 2011)
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Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtA Monster Calls by Patrick NessWonderstruck by Brian SelznickDivergent by Veronica RothInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Newbery 2012
20th out of 168 books — 678 voters
Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtWords in the Dust by Trent ReedyA Monster Calls by Patrick NessInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha LaiBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Mock Newbery 2011/2012
9th out of 39 books — 51 voters

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Community Reviews

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When I was in high school I started reading Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved on my own. At the time, my mother said something about the book that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. She noted that the novel was remarkable because it showed that even the best possible slave situation was still an intolerable one. There is no “good” slaveholder, no matter how nice they might be, and no matter how well they treat their slaves. I understood a bit of this but I’ve never really encountered a bo ...more
Can a person be great and still participate in evil?

This question lives at the heart of Jefferson's Sons, a fictionalized account of the lives of Thomas Jefferson's children by his slave, Sally Hemings. From the captivating cover art to the last devastating line, this book is engaging and thought-provoking.

Beverly, Harriet, Maddy, & Eston Hemings will be freed when they reach the age of 21. Master Jefferson has promised their mother this. For now, they are well taken care of; they do not w
The Library Lady
I live in Northern Virginia. Have been to Monticello a number of times--it's only about 2 hours from here. Have read lots of books on Jefferson. Have known the Hemmings story for years and have read Wolf By the Ears, another version of the story as seen through Harriet Hemings' eyes.

Bradley is a fine writer of historical fiction. Both of my daughters and I loved her The President's Daughter about young Ethel Roosevelt.

So I was eager to read this, and yet I finished it disappointed and had no int
Oct 18, 2011 Joan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction fans, American history students
This book was excellent. Rarely does a book written for children directly confronts the hypocrisy of one of our founding fathers, the one who wrote the Declaration of Independence, owning slaves. Told from the point of view of the three oldest slave sons of Jefferson and from the point of view of a slave child who was friends to the Jefferson boys. The author does not presume to explain why this happened but gives hints as to her opinion. Jefferson liked the good life: French food and wines, bei ...more
Everyone knows (or should know) who Thomas Jefferson was. But do you know who Sally Hemings is? Or Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings?

Sally Hemings was a slave. She belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston are her children, fathered by Mr. Jefferson. History has finally owned up about this fact enough to write a children's book about it.

Jefferson's sons is the story of Jefferson's children with his slave Sally. Particularly the boys. It tells the imagined tale o
Richie Partington
20 October 2011 JEFFERSON'S SONS: A FOUNDING FATHER'S SECRET CHILDREN by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Dial, September 2011, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3499-9

"'Ah,' said Mama. 'Then why would this boy be a slave?'
"Beverly didn't know what Mama wanted them to say. He took Maddy's hand and rubbed it. 'He's kind of dark,' Beverly said. 'I mean, not really, but his skin is a little darker than mine.'
"'So, dark skin is what makes you a slave?' Mama said. 'Everyone with dark skin is a slave?'
"Well that wa
Historical fiction, family, secrets

This novel is about Thomas Jefferson's four children from his caretaker slave Sally. Told from the perspective of two of his children and another child living close by readers learn that they must keep their father's identity a secret even though they look just like him.

One son, Maddy, is taught to read by Jefferson's grand daughter. Maddy then passes reading and writing to his siblings and other children on the plantation.

I particularly enjoyed learning abou
Elizabeth K.
Good grief, this was a hard read at times because of the subject matter, but overall it's an extremely thought-provoking book. It's mostly the story of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson's children, who were raised as slaves at Monticello, and party the story of another enslaved family who were their friends.

My only real complaint is that it's a little expository, a character will answer a conversational question with a comprehensive overview of some element of Jefferson family history, but I ca
I really enjoyed this one. 4.5 stars. I didn't give it 5 stars because I suspect some of my enjoyment stems from my recent reading of various non-fiction about Jefferson. The book stands wonderfully on its own, but I had a greater understanding of the surrounding circumstances referenced in passing in the book and the central fact of the ending--Jefferson's crushing debts.

The book narrates from the perspective of two of Jefferson's sons by Sally Hemings, and one son of their close friends, the
Afton Nelson
Can a man be both good and bad? Can he be both brilliant and foolish? Can he write things like, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and own 130 human beings? Evidently, he can. Thomas Jefferson was a man of contradictions. He was extremely generous with perfect strangers, yet could not, or would not acknowledge the children he had with his slave Sally Hemmings.

One of the things I realize about this part of history, is that it needs to be examined through a
1/27/12 I'm about halfway through. So far it seems to be a typical slave story, complete with overseers and bullwhips, that seems at odds with the rationally ordered Jeffersonian universe I thought I knew. The author is guilty of "present-ism," or giving her characters modern mindsets in the 18th/19th century cusp. Alexander Pope and Jane Austen are spinning in their graves.

Other reviews are quite positive, though, so I must be mistaken. I think I could swallow this better if it didn't purport t
The Reading Countess
As an aficionado of historical fiction, I was primed and ready to read Jefferson's Sons. Getting into the flow of the book, though, was a different story. I found the sentence structure to be "klunky." It's the only way I can describe how the sentences read for its intended audience. I think Bradley intended the reader to understand the historical imlications of the plot, appreciate Jefferson's immense contributions to our country in its infancy, and to scratch their heads at the dupilicity with ...more
Natalie Walker
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a historical fiction book that tells the story of Thomas Jefferson’s illegitimate children that he had with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. This book is told through three perspectives Beverly Hemings, James Madison (Maddy) Hemings, and Peter Fossett. Through these three perspectives the reader is able to gain insight in the varying degrees of slavery that each character faces. Beverly and his brother Maddy are given certain luxuries in life bec ...more
Really a compelling book. It made me want to cry and vomit by turns--sometimes even to laugh. I assumed I knew the gist of the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings story, but I didn't. Bradley writes movingly and believably about what it might have been like to be the 1/8th-black slave of your president slash father. And how your existence might have affected your mother and your extended family and your white more-than-half-sister (maybe everyone knows this but me, but I was astonished to read that H ...more
Kate Hastings
Grades 5-8. RL 600. Thomas Jefferson had two families. One with his wife Martha, with whom he had two children that survived to adulthood and gave him many grandchildren. After his wife died, he took his oldest daughter to France, where he stayed a few years. When he sent for his younger daughters, one of his slaves also traveled to France as the girls' attendant. And he fell in love with her. Sally Hemmings. They returned to the States where their relationship was secret, and they had many chil ...more
Mari Anne
I really enjoyed this MG/YA historical novel about Jefferson's sons with his slave Sally Hemmings. This book is full of a lot of great historical information about slavery and life at Monticello in the early 1800's. That being said, I think that the subject matter might be a tiny bit heavy for the suggested reading level of 8 and up. I think this would be more appropriate for grades 6 and up as there are several whippings in the book and also some talk suggesting forced sex or rape on slave girl ...more
One definitely could not introduce this book to young readers without first giving them other lessons on the era of slavery. By this I mean, solidly grounded factually based information of the times. Although I enjoyed Bradley's story line, the voices and thought processes of the characters did not ring true for that era.
Many times throughout the book, I found myself thinking,"He would not have said this or she would not think along those lines during the 1800s. I needed to keep reminding myself
Meticulously researched, extremely poignant, heart-tugging novel about the children of Sally Heming and Thomas Heming, Jefferson's Sons will be a hard sell for students, but it can be done. Those students who love the political soapbox, those who love to shout, "It's not fair!" could get this book off the ground. It starts slowly, but by the end I had to keep reading to see what happened to these fine people who just had to keep going when life gave them so little in the way of choices. Talk abo ...more
Well first I did not know this is considered a youth book when I ordered it from the library. Second I would have to say at 368 pages its not a young youth book but I guess 6 th grade and up. Third I got no wow factor from this book. Maybe its more simple writing butmore so I think I got caught up on that this is no proof of fact life happened this way so I was not so attached to the story. So it just proved in this story anyway that Jefferson had biracial children and was a little nicer to them ...more
Mary Jo
Jun 12, 2014 Mary Jo added it
Shelves: multicultural
The alternative to a book report I chose for Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is to write about the cultural or ethnic setting that is presented in this book as compared to my own life. Although this book is not set in another country, it is set during a time where the African American people were faced with difficult hardships in which slavery was eminent and their fate was henceforth inevitable. I chose this alternative because the contrast between the lives of the people depicted ...more
Caty Carino
Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children is a book by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This is a story about Thomas Jefferson and his secret family. This story was very intriguing, and we could not put this book down. This was a story about how Thomas Jefferson had a family with one of his black slaves. This book is from the African American slaves names Sally Hemings, Beverly, Harriet, Maddy and Eston. Sally was his wife and then the others were his children. It was strange that his chil ...more
Zoe Mark
When I think of Thomas Jefferson, I first think about the fact that he wrote the Declaration of Independence. This book shows that that is not the only thing he did. Thomas Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence, but he did other things that where not so great, such as being a slaveholder. It shows not just what it is like to be a slave, but what it is philosophically like to be a slave. The book switches through the perspective of three of the slaves that work at the great house, n ...more
Madeline Isaak
Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children is a book by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This is a story about Thomas Jefferson and his secret family. This story was very intriguing and I couldn’t put this book down. This was a story about how Thomas Jefferson had a family with one of his black slaves. This book is from the African American slaves names Sally Hemings, Beverly, Harriet, Maddy and Eston. Sally was his wife and then the others were his children. What was strange is that his ch ...more
Feb 13, 2014 Eowyn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: youth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book is a historical piece of awesome, did I just say that...? Forget that I said that. Ok anyways, this book is truly amazing. This book revolves around the slave Sally Hemings and her suspicious children that are rumored to be the kids of Thomas Jefferson. These children usually get special treatment like not having to work, and even violin lessons. The catch being that these children never mention who their father is due to tarnishing his reputation. One thing stands above all the violin ...more
Cayla N
"The overseers-four of them, all white men-prodded everyone into a sort of half circle around a post. James Hubbard stood with his hands tied to the top of the post, his back toward them. Mama moved to the front of the crowd, and as she did Harriet stepped behind her and hid her face in Mama's skirt. Beverly tried to do the same, but Mama grabbed his shoulders and held him facing forward. One overseer ripped James Hubbard's tattered shirt from his back, and a second stepped forward with a long b ...more
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a great look at what life may have been like for the children in this unique situation and of Jefferson as he lived his post-presidential life. I liked how she presented the story from the perspective of the two older boys for the first parts, but when she switched to a non-Jefferson child for the last part, I was confused and annoyed. It just didn't feel like it fit with the structure of the book and I wanted to hear from the youngest and didn't get to. In t ...more
Audrey Ettinger
I bought this at my kids' elementary school book fair, and it's a real find. A fictionalized account of Sally Hemings' children's lives, including a discussion by the author about what information she had that was accurate, and which parts she had to invent. It really captured the experience of how mixed-race people might be able to pass as white, and why they might choose to do so (or not). And the different experiences of the kids who looked more white vs those who looked more black was truly ...more
Michelle Schnell
Opening (adapted from ideas found at

Day One:
Begin with a Web Quest about Thomas Jefferson, slavery, and The Declaration of Independence. Provide with students with questions (such as: "Where did Thomas Jefferson fall in the order of American Presidents?" and "What famous document did he author?") and websites (such as and allow them to search, browse, read, and answer the questions.

Day Two:
Follow up the Web Quest with a day of
This book just never quite moved into suspension of disbelief for me. The characters always felt a little too much like set pieces used to teach me a history lesson. Now, it was a very full, and rich, history lesson, but it was too long to be just that.

Part of the problem for me was the unmentioned switching of point-of-view characters. I could never get comfortable with a character's mindset or motivations, knowing that I may be jolted out of them at the end of the chapter.

Also, since the autho
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I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1967, very near the small town that was the setting for my first book, Ruthie's Gift. I attended Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and graduated with a degree in chemistry just a few weeks before I married my high school sweetheart--Bart Bradley.

I studied chemistry in college because that was what I most loved to learn, but it's not what
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“What you know in your head and what you say out loud are not always the same.” 8 likes
“I kept traveling down the road. And everywhere it was the same. What was my name, who were my people? What was I supposed to say? That my father is the president, and my mother is his slave?” 3 likes
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