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The Listeners - Tales of Young Americans Series Review by Kate KesslerGloria Whelan
Sleeping Bear Press
27500 Drake Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535
"The lives of slaves depended on circumstances beyond their control. They had nothing to say about whom they would work for or where they would live. They never knew when they might be separated from their children or their spouses. Hoping to learn their fate, they sent small children to hide near the windows of their masters' homes to listen."
The Listeners is the story of three of those children. Bobby, Sue, and Ella May have to help work on the plantation and they each have their jobs, but when the night gets quiet and the master and the mistress start talking in the big house, the little ones have the most important job of all--they have to listen. They listen for their futures and they listen to find out what may happen to their pa's and their ma's. The children find out they will be getting a new overseer and they are happy since the one they have is a cruel man. They bring this news back to the family. The family isn't so sure that this is good news or bad.
We see the life on the plantation beautifully illustrated in warm earthy colors by Mike Benny and we learn about the close relationship the children have with their parents. We see them in the white folks' church and then we see them in their own church out in the forest. But all this may change with what the children hear on a different night. Master Thomas says that he has had an offer for Ella May's daddy, William! She listens closely to hear what Master Thomas will do. Thankfully, he isn't going to sell him. She lets out her breath with a sigh of relief and hugs her friend, Sue. Her daddy was sold away last year and she does not know if she will ever see him again.
Master Thomas is angry with the results of the election of President Lincoln and the children have to especially pay attention. What will happen to them? Will there be war? The book ends with Daddy sharing, "We see the road, but we don't see all the way to where the ending is. We got to know how long is that road and how we get down it. Bobby, Sue, and you, Ella May, your listening is just begun."
As with all the titles in the Tales of Young Americans Series, this is a beautiful moving book. It perfectly conveys the message that the lives of the slaves were not their own. There was no easy carefree childhood for them. The Listeners portrays a difficult time in our nation's history in a stirring manner for children. This book is not to be missed and would be a perfect addition to any Civil War study.