Reviews for Jefferson's Sons : A Founding Father's Secret Children

Booklist Reviews 2011 September #2
Don't you ever call him Papa. This gripping novel captures the viewpoints of the young children President Thomas Jefferson fathered with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Growing up in a cabin at Monticello, the children are told not to mention their father. The president is kind to Sally's oldest son, Beverly, and encourages him to play the violin. Jefferson promises the children they will be freed at 21. Beverly and his sister, Harriet, look white. Could they pass? But what about their brother, Maddy, who is dark-skinned? Could they leave him behind? The detailed history may overwhelm some readers. But told from the children's naive viewpoints, first Beverly's, then Maddy's, then that of little Peter, another young slave who is beloved by the Hemings family, the young innocents' elemental questions raise fundamental issues for the reader. How could founding father Jefferson sell off Maddy's best friend? What does it mean, all people are created equal? Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
William Beverly Hemings and his siblings are slaves; they re also Thomas Jefferson s children. Granted freedom at twenty-one, light-skinned Beverly leaves Monticello with plans to pass for white. But cultural differences complicate every aspect of his new life. The voices of the Hemings children give readers a perspective not found in history textbooks. An informative author s note completes this eye-opening and powerful novel.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #1
William Beverly Hemings has no idea what to call his father. His mother, Sally Hemings, forbids him to say Papa; Monticello's slaves address him as Master Jefferson; and Mr. President is the term usually reserved for visitors. Beverly, and his brothers and sister, are slaves; they're also Thomas Jefferson's children. What's more, they're legally white. The complexity of Beverly's identity gives the novel its heft but requires some background that initially takes the spotlight away from the characters before they emerge as distinct individuals to anchor this moving human story. Granted freedom at twenty-one, light-skinned Beverly leaves Monticello with plans to pass for white. But there's more to passing than color; cultural differences complicate every aspect of his new life. "The only way to be white is to not ever have been black." The voices of the Hemings children give readers a perspective not found in history textbooks. The rights of man, for example, aren't in nineteenth-century America for the taking; and no one knows this better than the slaves of Monticello, who, through Jefferson's indifference, are cruelly beaten and casually sold. As Beverly's younger brother Maddy tries to explain to a friend, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence proclaimed the founding fathers would protect those rights. "But they didn't really do it," the boy says. "I know," replies Maddy. "But they think they did." An informative author's note completes this eye-opening and powerful novel. betty carter

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

It was a secret everybody knew at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson was the father of Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings, and their mother was Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson.

Most people now have a vague idea of this story and the issues it raises about Jefferson, the author of the words that founded a nation: "All men are created equal." Bradley offers the first fully realized novel for young readers and tells it from the points of view of Beverly, Madison and another enslaved boy on the plantation. The characters spring to life, and readers will be right there with Beverly when his mother scolds him for referring to Master Jefferson as "Papa." Readers may wonder why, when three-quarters through the novel, the point of view shifts from Beverly and Madison to Peter Fossett, a slave but not one of Jefferson's sons. But this additional perspective becomes crucial to the wrenching conclusion of this fascinating story of an American family that represents so many of the contradictions of our history. The afterword is as fascinating as the novel, telling what later happened to each of the characters, and a small but excellent bibliography will lead readers to books and websites for further study.

A big, serious work of historical investigation and imagination; the tale has never before been told this well. (Historical fiction. 9-14) 

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2011 October

Gr 6-9--This well-researched fictional look at the lives of the sons of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings echoes with the horrors of slavery and the contradictions within the author of the Declaration of Independence and an admired champion of liberty. Bradley depicts Sally Hemings as a determined woman who accepts her role as a slave and secret lover of the president while she focuses on the promised freedom for her children. The story is told mainly by her three sons, Beverly, Madison, and Eston. Hemings never allows her children to forget that they are slaves while they live at Monticello and makes sure that they are aware of slavery's repulsiveness, despite their somewhat special status. She plans to have her light-skinned son Beverly and daughter Harriet go out in the world and "pass" as white people, but this will require that they never acknowledge her or their darker family members again. Eventually financial difficulties grow, and Jefferson is forced to sell many possessions, including 130 slaves. Maddy and Eston are given their freedom at the age of 21, but Sally Hemings was never set free. Bradley's fine characterization and cinematic prose breathe life into this tragic story.--Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

[Page 131]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.