Here’s a book from my summer reading list that surprised me. I was worried that this book would be heavy handed. Instead, I found a rich story; and, although it is a fictionalized account, this story based largely on historical fact.
It took me a little while to get into the book. As I kept reading, the writing seemed to become smoother, and I became totally absorbed in the story. I couldn’t put it down. I will definitely recommend this book to tweens and middle school.
Jefferson’s Sons starts with the story of Beverly, Thomas Jefferson’s oldest son with Sally Hemings, his slave. Beverly pines for his father’s love and is constantly reminded that he may never speak about his father to people outside his family. I was starting to wear on this theme but became really interested in the book as it changed voices to his next son, James Madison, or Maddy for short. Maddy’s voice is angry. He feels the indignity of being a slave more deeply and is bitter that of all Sally Hemings children, he is the only one that can not pass as white because of his dark skin. With each changing voice, the author provides another perspective to being Thomas Jefferson’s child. This technique added a lot of interest for me. As the story progresses, readers learn of the huge debts that plagued Thomas Jefferson’s household and how those debts would ultimately affect the lives of everyone at Monticello.
The author’s note at the end is excellent. She tells which parts of her book are based on historical fact and where she filled in parts of the story as she felt they might have occurred. This author’s note is great for students who wonder, “How much of this story is true?”
I was so interested in this story that it sparked my interest in Thomas Jefferson. I spent time on the Monticello.org web-site, reading about Sally Hemings and her children as well as looking at the Monticello grounds and pictures of Thomas Jefferson. There, on Monticello.org, you’ll find that there was a DNA study done that confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings children.
I’m excited to recommend this book to my students and teachers in the fall.