cover image My Name Is James Madison Hemings

My Name Is James Madison Hemings

Jonah Winter, illus. by Terry Widener. Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-385-38342-4

The creators of You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! bring poignant and personal dimension to the story of Thomas Jefferson’s family with Sally Hemings through the fictionalized first-person perspective of one of their sons. A somber mix of historical details and plausible fictional particulars, the book was inspired by an 1873 newspaper interview with James Madison Hemings (1805–1877), in which he described his Monticello childhood and claimed his paternity. Alongside Hemings’s candid narration, Widener’s emotive acrylic art underscores his perception of his life’s station: he’s repeatedly pictured peering in from the outside, with Jefferson (who isn’t identified until late in the story) shown at a distance. With bewilderment, Hemings observes the difference between Jefferson’s loving relationship with his white grandchildren and the man’s indifference to Hemings and his siblings who, though spared from field work and given violins, were taught carpentry rather than Latin (“This was our education”). A moving final scene reveals Hemings as a free man and accomplished carpenter who is still perplexed about how his father—and master—viewed him: “Perhaps he would be proud. I do not know.” Ages 5–9. [em]Author’s agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Oct.) [/em]