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We come home tired.  We come home hungry, but Bobby, Sue, and me, Ella May, got more work to do after supper.

We got to listen.

(from The Listeners)

The Listeners is a picture book depicting the lives of slaves, in particular three children who, after a hard day of work, go to the main house, hide under the open window, and listen to the conversations of the master and mistress of the plantation.  They listen for anything that might be important to the slaves, such as the arrival of a new boss or the sale of a particular slave, which could mean harsher working conditions or that a family would be separated.

Gloria Whelan brings one aspect of slavery to life in a way that is easy for children to grasp.  She explains the hard work the slaves are forced to perform and how they had no say in what happened to themselves or their families without detailing the beatings and other hardships that slaves endured at the hands of their masters.  Whelan shows how slave families did their best to stick together and help one another, and how their faith in God helped them survive.  And the illustrations by Mike Benny are dark hued, complementing this dark page in our nation’s history.

By telling the story from the point of view of a child, Whelan helps spark a discussion among parents and children, who will see sharp differences between their lives and the lives of the book’s characters.  I read this book with The Girl (age 9), and she told me what she’d learned so far about slavery.  We talked about how unfair and even dangerous it is to look at people differently based on the color of their skin, social class, religious beliefs, etc.  The role of the listeners was new to us both, and the courage of these children fascinated us.  The Listeners is an amazing story that can teach both children and adults about a chapter in history that must be discussed but never repeated.

Disclosure:  We won a copy of The Listeners in a blog giveaway. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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