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To Be a Slave

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,443 ratings  ·  364 reviews
A Newbery Honor Book

What was it like to be a slave?  Listen to the words and learn about the lives of countless slaves and ex-slaves, telling about their forced journey from Africa to the United States, their work in the fields and houses of their owners, and their passion for freedom.  You will never look at life the same way again.

"The dehumanizing aspects of slavery are
Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 18th 2000 by Puffin Books (first published 1968)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,443 ratings  ·  364 reviews

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Jason Koivu
Oct 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a children's book. This is a Newbery Medal runner-up. This is essential reading.

I was ready to move beyond the biographies of Frederick Douglass and others to search for more depth into the day to day existence of the American slave, and yes, in this book for children, I found it.

To Be A Slave delves into the archives of ex-slaves' accounts, occasionally dry memories of daily life transcribed word for word. It details their capture in Africa and those horrible, confined passages across
Erica Freeman
Oct 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
I read this when I was in 6th grade, maybe earlier...and read it several time afterwards.

This book terrified me, disgusted me, haunted me.

To read the words of people who'd actually been slaves...not of their grandparents...or great-grandparents...but the words of slaves themselves made a huge impact on me.

To read of the degradation and horror of slavery was incredibly difficult, especially thinking of my own "ancestors" (as if they were that far removed from me) suffering that way was so painful
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dead-tree
Rather than wading through a bunch of slave narratives, one can get a very concise and organized portrait of life in antebellum-era slavery (with a coda about post-Reconstruction segregation) from the excerpts Lester has compiled in this slim volume. It's perfect for giving school kids a rudimentary grounding in the subject, as well as providing launch points for further research and reading.

While in grade school, I remember one of my classmates went to talk to (approximately) 105 year-old Daisy
Sheena at Hot Eats and Cool Reads
Let me start off by saying, this is a great historical children's book, and it should be required reading in schools across America. Where I grew up, we didn't learn much about slavery, the civil rights movement, or any African American history for that matter. This is such an important part of our history.

I loved that the book has different chapters based on each time frame throughout slavery, including how they made it to the slave ship, their horrible journey to America, plantation life and t
Taylor Mayes
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
i had to read this for school. It was truly painful to read, but then again, i think that was the point.
May 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books
To Be A Slave, by Julius Lester, was one of the most moving books I have ever read provided with many detailed, first hand accounts of slaves captured in Africa by the English and Europeans and then taken to the new colonies in America. Full of greed, anger, frustration, sadness, horror, and pain, this book will set even the toughest heart aching for those slaves who went through so much sorrow. What I thought really made this book so amazing that I would recommend anyone to read, was the autho ...more
Dee Dee G
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was one heck of a book and should be required reading.
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gr-8-semester-2
This was such a powerful book which I believe has been greatly overlooked. It combines the Slave Narratives into solid, well thought out chapters. It makes the book feel less like information and more like a story. I enjoyed most of it - towards the middle, the pace of the book slipped a little. It picked up at the end, and I found the last narrative to be gut-wrenching. It was completely fascinating to see this time period from the slave's point of view, unedited. Not to say I haven't read abou ...more
Kristin Tabb
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(Teaching notes for later reference: High priority read for American Lit. High school only. Send out note to parents due to language. Include oral storying/community theme. Incorporate discussions of dehumanization then and now. Make sure to order the thirty year anniversary edition and have students read the moving intro by Lester and respond to the first two pages esp.)
Robyn Severe
Mar 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
There should be nothing but stark reality surrounding this subject, so none of us delude ourselves into thinking the slavery was just part of the romance of the south as in Gone With the Wind. The life of a slave, told by slaves.
Kyle Loehrke
May 18, 2018 is currently reading it

Personal Response
I enjoyed reading the book, To Be a Slave, this quarter. I found it a very interesting book to read. The book was about the slave era in North America. I learned many things from the book including: how slaves were transported, sold, and punished. I also learned the history behind how slaves came to be and why slavery was abolished. I am very glad I read this book, because I learned a lot about slaves. I also enjoy reading books about history, because I enjoy learning about the
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was written for young adults so that they could understand the horrors of slavery without subjecting them to the totality of it that they may be too young to read about. However, these excerpts taken from various books that recorded the words and feelings of the enslaved is very powerful. This is not fiction, but actual interviews of the enslaved. They shared how they were dehumanized, terrorized, and brutalized and the animalistic conditions they were forced to live in.

Everyone should read
Apr 20, 2018 rated it liked it
a collection of recollections by ex slaves or their children.
I wish it had gone further with their stories but I'll just have to read other books.
Though I as most, already knew the horrors of slavery, it opened my eyes to the heartbreak brought by the promised freedom that they could not be prepared for. The realities of being dumped, with nothing and no means of support... What were they expected to do? How were they expected to live? -they were lucky if they had clothing - no homes, no food, n
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was written to introduce children to the concept of the slavery in the US. It intersperses excerpts from slave accounts and interviews with explanatory remarks by Lester as well as black and white drawings by Feelings. I felt it did a good job of explaining and showing without showing too much of the real horror that slaves suffered. My intent in reading it was to determine if it is appropriate for my 11year old grand-nephew, and I feel it definitely is.
Dewin Anguas Barnette
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must read for every American. Though it is published as a book for young readers, it is for everyone. It is a perfect overview, yet full of details, of just what the title states. No one should have an opinion on race relations in this country without first having read this book.
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved how this book carefully weaved in the real words of ex-slaves and showed all perspectives, but most of all, there was no censorship. Julius Lester gave us the entire image. It truly changed my image of slaves and showed to me how the line between immoral and moral can be blurred to the extent that it is not apparent. This is the type fo book that you won't want to read again for some time, but you will not regret reading it. It leaves a lasting imprint.

“Don’t you want to know our family history?”
He laughed dryly. “I don’t need to pay anybody to tell me about where we came from. Our family tree ends in a bill of sale. Lester is the name of the family that owned us.”
His words were the defining moment of my life…..I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss…….I did not even know my real name (Pg. 3,4)

Well wanted to finish my Black History reading with a classic I have never read…..and heads up this is a long review because wow I am seriously a fan of Ju
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"To be a slave" by Juluis Lester was a book about slavery and how the slaves were treated, everything that they had to go through. They suffered from torture, starvation, and working too hard. It's so sad knowing that people were owned just like an object in a house, and were ordered to do things that they didn't want to do. There were some really sad parts in this book that I read. Children and parents were seperated from eachother, they couldn't see eachother ever again. The children were sol ...more
May 25, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: For kids in 4th grade up to adults
Shelves: authors-j
My son (5th grade) read this book for a non-fiction history book report this year and it looked a bit interesting so I thought I would give it a try. My son didn't find it very interesting. I had a hard time getting into this book, it took me a long while to finish it. The words from the slaves themselves I had no problem with. Lester did a good job compliling everything, though I would love to know why he chose the final words that he did for this book. As I said, I found the words of the men ...more
Nov 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This small book packs a big punch. In letting past survivors and family of survivors of slavery speak for themselves in words recorded years ago, and finally curated into a cohesive history of slavery by Lester, a powerful point is made. You can think you know about slavery. Disapprove of slavery. Know just how horrible it is. And then you read these accounts, from the victims yourself, and it blows your mind. Well, it blew mine anyway. It helped me put a lot of current events and issues, as wel ...more
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up at the suggestion of Sue Monk Kidd at the end of her book "The Invention of Wings." Lester writes, "One of the greatest overlook source for information concerning slavery has been the words of those who were slaves." To write this book, Lester read through over six thousand pages of manuscripts and organized it into chapters and tied it together with a bit of his own commentary. The result is this short (156 pages) and very interesting book. The accounts cover everything fr ...more
Aug 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Julius Lester's "To be a Slave" was a great book that taught me a lot about slavery. What surprised me the most about this book was how emotional it could be, especially when the slaves were talking about how they were treated by their masters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

When I first started reading this book, I was worried it was going to be a boring historical fiction book about slavery. After I read the introduction, I learned that it was written by a descendant of slavery who
Alex Schwartz
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Honestly, I absolutely hated this book. The text did not keep me interested throughout the whole book, let alone the first 40 pages. Not only that, but the words were stated in such a way that the English language would have been spoken in the 19th Century. The text was hard for me to understand and very disinteresting. Maybe if I try to read this book again when I am a little bit older, I might be able to understand the text better and enjoy what I am reading. I don't think I would read another ...more
Guo Hui
Nov 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
I felt that this book really took the definition of quoting to a whole new level. Not only is this book made entirely of quotes, the author also connected and organized the quotes in a way that made sense to the "story" he was trying to tell. Reading this book not only made me realize the styles novels can come in, it also made me realize that slavery was more devastating than it seemed. Not only were the slaves treated as property, there were even slaves that were treated as animals for breedin ...more
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a monumental book that I would love to incorporate into a middle school or upper elementary classroom. The format is a massive collection of personal anecdotes collected from journals, etc of slaves and as such can feel jumpy and hard to follow at times. This is especially true with the very short stories. I would have liked a little more narration to keep it flowing and provide more information about events.
That said, I think this would be a great book to keep in a classroom library a
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gr-8-semester-2
This was such a powerful book which I believe has been greatly overlooked. It combines the Slave Narratives into solid, well thought out chapters. It makes the book feel less like information and more like a story. I enjoyed most of it - towards the middle, the pace of the book slipped a little. It picked up at the end, and I found the last narrative to be gut-wrenching. It was completely fascinating to see this time period from the slave's point of view, unedited. Not to say I haven't read abou ...more
Mar 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
I got this from my mom's to let my 9 yr. old read, but I wanted to read it first, to see if she could or not... I was somewhat surprised at the content, it is a very sad book! I think I will wait to introduce it to Lexie. The author does a good job compiling letters of ex-slaves, beginning at capture and going through daily life and then to freedom. I was surprised at the letter he chose to end the book on though, the person who wrote it is very bitter and angry, while the rest of the book is a ...more
Logan Erdmann
This book is a compilation of written letters and notes by slaves. It is a very intresting book, simply because there is a new story about an event that happened every few pages. This book will help you see the way slavery changed and you will see a difference in this book and any high school history textbook. This book has real life experieces that are written down by those who experienced them. I would recommend this book to young adults, escpecially those who are intrested in the history of s ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people with good attention spans
Recommended to Samantha by: Mr.Otte
My english teacher assigned this book to the class and gave us 2 weeks to read it. At some parts, it made you cry, and at other parts, it bored me to tears. Either way, you'll end up crying if you read it. But no it was a pretty good book, not the most interesting through some chapters, but it really made you question life back then in history, and life today. You decide how much you think things have changed.
Oct 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I wish that there were more illustrations because I wanted to get more a visual picture of what they were going through.I like this book because actual slaves were telling their stories.I rate this book a 4 out of 5 because they used real slaves interviews.If i were the author i would have put in more pictures because like i said before i think it's better to get more of a visual picture.
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Julius Lester was an American writer of books for children and adults. He was an academic who taught for 32 years (1971–2003) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was also a photographer, as well as a musician who recorded two albums of folk music and original songs.

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