Ed Sullivan

The euphemism “peculiar institution” seems particularly apt when considering Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to slavery. The great founding father who penned the words “all Men are created equal” owned more than 130 slaves when he died in 1826. However enlightened and “revolutionary” Jefferson may have been for a man of his times, he nonetheless engaged in the savage practice of buying and selling human beings throughout his life.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s completely engrossing historical novel looks at the last 20 years of Thomas Jefferson’s life through the eyes of three of his slaves: Beverly and Madison Hemings, who were also his sons, and Peter Fossett. That Jefferson fathered Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston by their mother Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, was a secret everyone knew at Monticello. Jefferson may not have been the worst of slave owners, but he was capable of cruelties such as whipping runaways and breaking up families as slaves were sold off. These horrors were dispensed by overseers, but they were done at his behest.

Bradley brings her characters and setting vividly to life. There are many heartbreaking moments, such as Beverly’s mother scolding him for referring to Master Jefferson as “Papa.” Jefferson is appropriately portrayed as a deeply conflicted man who could shower his slave children with fatherly attention one moment and then treat them like pieces of furniture the next. Three-quarters of the way through the story, the point of view shifts from Beverly and Madison to Peter Fossett, another enslaved boy on the plantation but not one of Jefferson’s sons. Although initially jarring, the shift proves crucial for the heart-wrenching conclusion.

In an afterword, Bradley explains what later happened to each of the characters and which aspects of the story are historical and which are fictional. She also includes a bibliography of books and websites for further study. Jefferson’s Sons is a fascinating, disturbing portrait of an American family that reflects many of the bizarre paradoxes of our history. This story has been told before, but never has it been told so completely and so well for young readers.

The euphemism “peculiar institution” seems particularly apt when considering Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to slavery. The great founding father who penned the words “all Men are created equal” owned more than 130 slaves when he died in 1826. However enlightened and “revolutionary” Jefferson may have been for a man of his times, he nonetheless engaged in […]

Through art, philosophy, science and storytelling, humans have attempted to understand their essential but frequently paradoxical connection to the rest of the animal world. In an insightful new book for teens, One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals, Deborah Noyes examines the ways our lives have overlapped with animals and how the human-animal bond has affected our culture. Noyes begins by explaining how early humans had both a practical and spiritual bond with animals, depending upon them for their very survival as sources of food, clothing, shelter and tools, and thus elevating them to a sacred status. The loss of this dependency and intimacy has resulted in the separation of mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. The more we distance ourselves from animals, the more difficult it is to know them, Noyes argues. She notes that there's little benefit and much to lose in positioning ourselves outside nature. Our awe and fear of some animals coupled with our sentimental affection for others has shaped beliefs, myths and superstitions in every culture. Noyes shows how animals have figured prominently in fables and folktales, helping to convey cultural mores, traditions and values.

A former zookeeper herself, the author gives careful consideration to the ethics of keeping animals in captivity. The zoo presents a paradox, she says: It provides an opportunity to bring humans and animals together, but the meaningfulness of their interaction is suspect because of the artificial environment.

Noyes acknowledges the difficulty, perhaps even the impossibility, of knowing animals, but challenges her young adult audience to never stop trying better understanding of what it means to be an animal will inevitably lead us to better understanding of what it means to be human. Teens who love animals and especially those with an interest in animal rights will find Noyes' provocative book both fascinating and compelling.

Through art, philosophy, science and storytelling, humans have attempted to understand their essential but frequently paradoxical connection to the rest of the animal world. In an insightful new book for teens, One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals, Deborah Noyes examines the ways our lives have overlapped with animals and how the human-animal bond has affected […]

<b>Curiosity was Franklin's key</b> The 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth has inspired several new books for young readers, and Joan Dash's <b>A Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, From Scientist to Diplomat</b> is one of the best. This insightful, highly engaging biography depicts Franklin as an insatiably curious, remarkably creative individual who was first and foremost a scientist but nonetheless also achieved extraordinary success in public service and diplomacy. The book opens with a 37-year-old Franklin witnessing a scientific demonstration that propels his lifelong fascination and experimentation with electricity. Dash notes that [s]ince childhood he had been possessed of a powerful curiosity, a need to know how things worked and why. Dash chronicles Franklin's success as a printer and publisher and his efforts to create a police corps, fire company, hospital, the first public library system in America and an academy which later became the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his profound sense of civic duty, Franklin was equally selfless in the many inventions he created, including bifocals, the furnace stove, the lightning rod and the first odometer. Although he took care to make it known that these inventions were his brainchild, Franklin never patented them, believing they existed as an opportunity to serve others. Admired by the French court and beloved by French citizens, Franklin became America's first foreign diplomat, helping to secure vital financial and military support. Franklin's diplomatic successes led Britain's ambassador to France to declare him a dangerous engine. Dash also offers fascinating insight into Franklin's relationships with his children, particularly his complete estrangement from his son William, who sided with the Loyalists. Handsome pen-and-ink drawings highlight moments in this revolutionary thinker's life. Although written specifically for young people, this lively, entertaining biography is a book readers of all ages will enjoy. <i>Ed Sullivan is a school librarian in Knoxville.</i>

<b>Curiosity was Franklin's key</b> The 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth has inspired several new books for young readers, and Joan Dash's <b>A Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, From Scientist to Diplomat</b> is one of the best. This insightful, highly engaging biography depicts Franklin as an insatiably curious, remarkably creative individual who was first and foremost […]

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