cover image Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family

Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family

Shannon Lanier. Random House Books for Young Readers, $19.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-375-80597-4

""My name is Shannon Lanier. I am a twenty-year-old descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings,"" begins this thought-provoking, handsome volume designed to resemble a family photo album. Earnest and energetic, Lanier, Jefferson's fifth great-grandson through Sally Hemings's son Madison, brings both these qualities to his anecdotal narrative as he introduces descendents through both family lines and affectingly conveys the tension that surrounded some of his encounters. Describing the first Jefferson family reunion to which the Hemings relatives were invited, at Monticello in 1999, Lanier writes: ""There were Jeffersons there who threw their arms around me, and one woman who looked at my outstretched hand and actually shuddered."" Those responses are reflected in the profiles here, too, from Jane Floyd's (a descendant of Sally Hemings's and Jefferson's eldest son) articulate discussion of black history including the forming of the NAACP, to Jane Randolph Schluter's flat refusal to believe that Jefferson fathered Hemings's children (""In my family, it was always referred to as a rumor propagated by the Hemings family""). Not surprisingly, some of the subjects are more eloquent and have more compelling stories to recount than others (and some detail their family trees to such a degree that youngsters may get lost in the branches). But this makes a strong teaching tool and springboard for discussion on subjects as varied as understanding one's own genealogy and the devastating results of racial prejudice. Archival photographs supplement Feldman's crisp and candid black-and-white shots, which capture the essence of each subject. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)