Bradley, K. B. (2011). Jefferson’s sons: A founding father’s secret children. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780803734999
Annotation: It’s an open secret at Monticello that Beverly, Maddy, Harriet and Eston are Master Thomas Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally. How does this family deal with knowing their father is a great, influential man who owns them?
Reaction: Bradley tells her story over the course of 22 years through three slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson, using the 3rd person limited point of view. By switching narrators, she is able to cover the full history of her chosen time period while keeping the narrator a child. The first narrator shift was a little jarring for me, as I was really invested in Beverly’s story and wanted to continue with him, but by the second shift, it was expected and smooth reading. I enjoyed how she was able to show the reader how each previous narrator grew and matured through the eyes of the new narrator.
This book was a really fascinating look at a man who is generally idolized by the American History. While the story centers on the slaves who narrate the story, two of whom were Jefferson’s illegitimate children, their feelings about “Master Jefferson” color the narrative and give the reader a different perspective of the man. By the end, I found myself having a hard time reconciling the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was an integral part of creating this country with the man who not only owned slaves, but had children with one of them and ran up ridiculous amounts of debt. Whenever I start feeling bad about my school loans again, I’ll console myself with the knowledge that at least I owe less than Thomas Jefferson did.
I would use this book as part of a 4th or 5th grade history unit to provide students with a different perspective than a typical history book has. I think an important part of history is to teach children about the good and the bad, giving them a rounded view of the world. I would even recommend this for adults, as I feel I learned a lot from reading this book. It has challenged my thinking about Thomas Jefferson, which I always think is the mark of a successful book. Bradley pushes her readers towards new ideas and forces us to rethink what we were taught.