babyhippoface's Reviews > Jefferson's Sons

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
282057
's review
Nov 18, 11

bookshelves: historical, kids-fiction, black-history
Read from October 17 to November 17, 2011

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 work as hard as the other slaves as Monticello and they receive privileges, as well.

Beverly, the oldest son, wants so badly to have a relationship with the man he longs to call "Papa" but is forced to refer to as "Master Jefferson". The older he gets, the more Beverly knows that can never happen. Because he is light-skinned, when he is freed, he and his sister Harriet will leave Monticello to become a part of white society, and no one can ever know the truth of their paternity. Eston, the youngest, is the spitting image of Jefferson and poses the biggest threat of exposure when visitors come to Monticello. He, too, knows he will leave Monticello forever when he is freed.

Middle son James Madison (Maddy, for short) knows that when is freed, he will stay with his mother because, of all Sally's children, he alone is too dark-skinned to pass for white. It is his painful reality that once they leave Monticello, he will never see his siblings again.

Peter Fossett is a slave born at Monticello, son of the great-house cook and the blacksmith. Peter believes himself to be the luckiest boy in the world to live his happy life at Monticello. He is too young to work hard, but he is still helpful, and he gets to run and play on the mountaintop. From there, he can see the whole world, it seems.

For all the beauty in these children's lives (and there is beauty, be sure), they are still slaves. Their lives are not their own. Master Jefferson lives grandly. He is generous to the stream of guests that come to Monticello to see the president, and money is running out. They tell themselves that as long as Master Jefferson lives, they know they will be treated just fine. Yes, but what of when he dies? What then?

And what are we to think of Master Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, champion of freedom, slaveholder? Can a person be great and still participate in evil? In each boy's thoughts and actions we see both respect for the man and great disdain. How could he sell people? It is interesting to note that none of the boys seems to respect Jefferson because he is a "great man", for his role in government, for his writings, or his stand for freedom. They respect him because he is their Master and respect is their role. Can a person be great and still participate in evil? The answer is not an easy one.

I don't know many elementary students who would pick this book off the shelf and choose to check it out. It does not have that kind of appeal to our students. They barely know who Thomas Jefferson was, after all. But they need to read this. It is a powerful reminder of man's ability to think of ourselves as good people and yet be completely inhumane to others. This book belongs in upper elementary and middle school social studies classrooms. It needs to be read, to be studied, to be debated, to be a voice from the past that urges us to become catalysts for change, kindness, and compassion.
9 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Jefferson's Sons.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Karen (new) - added it

Karen We just got this one and I've been looking forward to it - great review!


message 2: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Yes, outstanding review!!!


babyhippoface Thank you, Karen & Kathryn. Let me know how you both like the book. I have read some online reviews today by people who felt the characters were unrealistically naive and the book was didactic. I came away with neither of those feelings. Curious to see what you think.


message 4: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn babyhippoface wrote: "Thank you, Karen & Kathryn. Let me know how you both like the book. I have read some online reviews today by people who felt the characters were unrealistically naive and the book was didactic. I c..."

Thanks! It will probably be awhile before I get to this, but it's definitely something I wan to keep in mind.


Cathy Jo I am about half way through it at the moment and I completely agree that every student should read this book!!! It would give them a more intimate view of slavery and how it effected them in all aspects of their lives.


message 6: by Penny (new) - added it

Penny hi
how graphic would you say this novel is? would it be suitable for teens?
thanks for your time!


babyhippoface Though there are "rough" scenes, it is not graphic. There is nothing objectionable as far as graphic scenes go. It would be suitable for upper elementary students and older.


message 8: by Penny (new) - added it

Penny thanks thats helpful


back to top