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Jefferson's Sons

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  4,290 Ratings  ·  731 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 Books (first published September 1st 2011)
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Nicole Definitely. Complicated relationships between Thomas Jefferson and the secret family he had with one of his many slaves. Several of his children with…moreDefinitely. Complicated relationships between Thomas Jefferson and the secret family he had with one of his many slaves. Several of his children with Sally Hemmings looked just like him and later when freed, lived as free white citizens. (less)

Community Reviews

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Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Stephanie Anze
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sally Hemings and her children (Beverly, Madison, Eston and Harriet) are slaves in Monticello, the estate owned by Thomas Jefferson. Unlike the rest of her contemporaries, Sally and her children enjoy some perks (better work, clothes and even violin lessons) because Master Jefferson is also the father to these children. While the adults understand the situation, the children can not begin to comprehend it. As they struggle to find their place, they must also establish their identity.

I read 'Amer
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Juvenile, historical fiction. This is a powerful story that touched me deeply. After you read this book you will never look at color, or race on the same way ever again. Thomas Jefferson's children by his slave, Sally Hemings, were legally white, but they were the children of a slave woman so they were slaves. This story cuts to the heart of the irony of the slave culture in America and poses the question, what does it mean to be "black," or to be "white?" Can the color of your skin d ...more
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You are a slave in Virginia, not just a slave to anyone, but to the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. He isn’t just your master though, he is your father but you can’t tell anyone as it will ruin his reputation. You work for your father, the president, who gives his white children everything they want while you, unable to do anything, stays silent and watch his other children be happy. You can’t do anything about it, you have no say in anything. On the bright side, you get ...more
Sarah Johnson
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up at the Boulder Bookstore on their shelf for what kids are reading in school. So glad to know this is a part of school curriculum. I love how Bradley passes the narrative onto each 7 year-old boy once the older one has reached his teen years and it is through their perspective that the reader comes to understand the devastating consequences and injustices of slavery in America.
Elizabeth K.
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-new-reads
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
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: tweens-teens, af-am
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
Jennifer Greiner
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! It was a quick read and easily kept my interest throughout. I enjoyed the deeper insights and questions brought up regarding slavery - what defines one as a slave, how can one believe in freedom and equality (enough to author the Declaration of Independence) yet own slaves.
At times though, I questioned the believability of children pondering these questions. On the other hand, I appreciated the more innocent child-like perspective while tackling these complex issues. Intriguing
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
Nov 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I gave this 4 stars because although I thought that the story was so so so interesting, the book was not super interesting. I thought that the author did a great job giving everyone personalities. I guess that what I mostly didn't like was that there wasn't a lot of action, and the personalities kept changing. I liked that the personalities changed because I got to learn many people's stories, but I thought that all of the changing made the story a little flat. For example, the book starts when ...more
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I loved this book, which is historical fiction based on excellent research into events and the motivations of historical figures in Thomas Jefferson's life. Even though it's written for middle readers/YA, I feel like the book was complex and compelling. The author deftly and sensitively addresses some really challenging historical realities, including the fact that the man who wrote the document calling for freedom for all people owned slaves, including his own children.
Heidi Goehmann
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Our whole family really enjoys anything by Ms. Brubaker Bradley. Her storytelling is exquisite and well researched. My kids love to find unexpected details of the historical characters and then look up if it's something we know or not. This book did not disappoint. Lovely telling of family structure and dynamics, the sadness of slavery, the joy in everyday delights, and the wrestling of defining what makes a man "good."
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Pegi Hover
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well, I read the first half of this novel and was prepared to give it maybe two stars. I put it down for a month. As I resumed reading, I began to change my opinion. The further I got into the book, the better it got. I think the most salient message of the book was the attitudes about what freedom meant to different strata of society in the 18th century....even Thomas Jefferson who penned the Declaration. No spoilers....but the way he conducted his life was certainly anachronistic if not hypocr ...more
Afton Nelson
Mar 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-grade
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
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-school
3.5 stars

I actually put off reading Jefferson's Sons for a long time because the cover looked kind of serious and boring to me. However, I finally picked it up for book club and was pleasantly surprised. I didn't realize before reading that this book is for a middle-school reading level and it is quite easy to get through, while introducing new words and serious concepts. The book tells the story of children born to Thomas Jefferson and his black mistress, Sally Hemings. Through narratives from
The Reading Countess
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Oct 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Holly Chavez
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I felt the author captured the struggle that Beverly and Madison must have faced. Growing up as slaves, but being primary white, Beverly and Madison were outsiders to both worlds they lived in. Disowned by Jefferson's family and even from Jefferson himself, they were treated better than most slaves yet they were not free and could not expect an recognition from white society even after they turned twenty one (the age they were freed at).

As children we are not aware of skin color or economic sta
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Natalie Walker
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aron Wagner
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I look forward to putting this into the hands of my 8th graders. It does a graceful job of exploring the questions of status among slaves, of whiteness and blackness in the early 1800s, and of "passing." One of the most wrenching moments is when Maddy, the little brother with skin too dark to someday "pass" like his older siblings, confronts his sister Harriet, livid with hurt: " You going to tell them about me?" he asked Harriet. "You going to tell your little girls about your darky little brot ...more
Mari Anne
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mg-ya
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
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Thomas Jefferson, our great founding father who owned slaves, owned his mistress and their children as well. "What does it mean when the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence is your father and also your slave master?"

Jefferson's Sons is the story of Sally Hemings and her six children who lived at Monticello. Her children were given special priority over other slave children because everyone knew of the "secret". Eventually these children were given their freedom when they became of age.
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I grew up loving books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lenski, L.M. Montgomery, Madeline L'Engle, K.M. Peyton, Noel Streatfield, Mary Norton, and Sydney Taylor. Patricia MacLachlan and Jane Yolen helped me start writing.

As a child I always imagined how wonderful it would be to wake up to a pony in the back yard, but the way the farm I live on now sits it makes better sense for the pastures to be in
More about Kimberly Brubaker Bradley...

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“What you know in your head and what you say out loud are not always the same.” 11 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?” 4 likes
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