Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Listeners by Gloria Whelan and Mike Benny

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 contest.


Serena said...

This is a very aptly titled book, I think. Great review and I think more kids should be reading and discussing this book with their parents.

jewwishes said...

Great review! Well articulated.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

So good that you and The Girl were able to discuss the lessons in this book. The role of slave children as listeners was a new-to-me concept, too.

You and The Girl would likely get a lot from LEAH'S PONY, centered on a young girl during the Great Depression (and, hey, I just happened to have posted a review of it today ... the book is about 10 years old, one of my faves)

bermudaonion said...

This book does sound amazing and the cover is just fabulous too.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This book sounded so good. Where did I see the review? Natasha? Dawn? I'm assuming that is where you won it. What an interesting concept.

Suko said...

I would love to read The Listeners. Thanks for your lovely review.

Thanks also for posting about the giveaway for Melinda and the Wild West. :)

Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds like a great read for parents to share with their children, with a good lesson attached. Thanks for hte great review! :-)

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Thanks for explaining the title. I didn't realize that role existed either.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have this book too and I just love the art work, and the history lesson in it is about as unscary as it can be, considering the topic. I love this book!

Ladytink_534 said...

I love these illustrations. Beautiful!

gautami tripathy said...

Marvellous cover. Wonderful review. I have to check it out.

Anna said...

~Serena: Well said!

~jewwishes: Thanks!

~Dawn: I love it when a children's book provides a learning experience for both the child and the parent. I think I've read that pony book before, but I'm not sure. Regardless, it sounds great.

~bermudaonion: I love the cover, too.

~Sandy: Dawn definitely reviewed it, but not sure about Natasha. I won my copy from Brimful Curiosities.

~Suko: You're very welcome!

~Marie: Those are my favorite children's books. Thanks for stopping by!

~Nicole: I had no idea what to expect when I opened the book. It was truly amazing.

~rhapsodyinbooks: Unscary is important when introducing such a topic to a child. I think the other details are important to note, too, but those can wait until the child is older. I love how the artwork totally fit the tone of the story.

~Ladytink: They were dark to fit the story, but beautiful at the same time.

~gautami: It's a worthwhile read, and I hope you get your hands on a copy.