Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The Listeners, by Gloris Whelan, illustrated by Mike Benny, reviewed by Squirt
Slavery is a difficult subject to broach with very young children. You don't want to make any of it sound acceptable, but you don't want to give your six-year-old nightmares. Whelan and Benny together do a commendable job with a tricky subject.
Ella May and her fellow slave children have an extra job after their day's work is done. They listen underneath the windows of the master's house hoping to gain any sort of information they can share back at the slave quarters - news of a new overseer, the sale of a slave, or a new President whose coming may mean big changes for all of them.
Whelan's storytelling hints at the sadness of being separated from a parent without going too deep, and gives the general impression of the overseer and owners as being mean grown-ups, a concept most small children can grasp, without spelling out the cruelty that existed. Benny's darkly shaded drawings, contrasted by the brightness inside the house and towards the end of the book, do an excellent job of conveying the mood as well.
I would recommend this book for young children (5 or so) who have begun asking questions, on up to middle schoolers, possibly read as a lesson introduction. Copy received from Sleeping Bear for review consideration.