Thursday, July 02, 2009

To Be A Slave (MG, YA)


Lester, Julius. 1968. To Be A Slave.

This book is a 1969 Newbery Honor Winner. And it's easy to see why. What should you expect from this one? Why should you read it? Well, Lester has woven together compiling primary sources into a book that is powerful and moving. The thing that impresses me most about the book is its richness. It presents first-hand accounts, primary sources. Accounts from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stories from slaves and ex-slaves. Stories from men and women. These stories don't need a lot of dressing up. They don't need to be sensationalized. In their very simplicity, they speak volumes.

To be a slave. To be owned by another person, as a car, house, or table is owned. To live as a piece of property that could be sold--a child sold from its mother, a wife from her husband. To be considered not human, but a "thing" that plowed the fields, cut the wood, cooked the food, nursed another's child; a "thing" whose sole function was determined by the one who owned you.
To be a slave. To know, despite the suffering and deprivation, that you were human, more human than he who said you were not human. To know joy, laughter, sorrow, and tears and yet to be considered only the equal of a table.
To be a slave was to be a human being under conditions in which humanity was denied. They were not slaves. They were people. Their condition was slavery.
They who were held as slaves looked upon themselves and the servitude in which they found themselves with the eyes and minds of human beings, conscious of everything that happened to them, conscious of all that went on around them. Yet slaves are often pictured as little more than dumb, brute animals, whose sole attributes were found in working, singing, and dancing. They were like children and slavery was actually a benefit to them--this was the view of those who were not slaves. Those who were slaves tell a different story.
Highly recommended.


© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

5 comments:

Paige Y. 11:00 AM  

This is an incredibly powerful book. I often read excerpts to my eighth graders when they are studying slavery. It is a must-have in a media center.

One of the slave narratives that Lester uses is that of Solomon Northup. As a middle schooler, I read an adapted version of his story called In Chains to Louisiana. It had an enormous impact on me but it's now out of print. When I read Lester's book, I instantly connected to it because it contains sections I remembered from reading about Northup.

Debi 12:17 PM  

Great review, Becky! I couldn't agree more with the "highly recommended" designation...it's a powerful book that is well worth the read!

debnance 6:09 PM  

Not only do I have this in my TBR, but this book is sitting under my bed, waiting to be read!

Suko 9:57 PM  

Thank you for your sensitive review. This sounds like a must-read.

Zibilee 12:44 PM  

This sounds like a very raw and intimate book. I think it sounds very interesting, and I would love to read it. Thanks for the great review, especially the quote, it really gives a flavor of the writing style and voice of the book.

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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