Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue
Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue

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Annotation: Traces the results of the Butler patriarch's huge slave auction during which he justifies his broken promises and cruelty to Emma and her parents.
Catalog Number: #249
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Teaching Materials Receive a FREE Teacher's Guide for this title with a purchase of 20 or more copies of this book. You do not need to add a copy of the Teacher's Guide to your list, it will be automatically included with your order after the minimum number of copies is ordered.
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition Date: 2007
Pages: 177 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-423-10409-9 Perma-Bound: 0-605-00011-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-423-10409-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-00011-7
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2005298043
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
Horn Book
In a dramatic program of monologues and conversations (with simple stage directions), Lester imaginatively reconstructs what could have been going on in the minds of fictional slaves and owners on a Georgia plantation on the concluding day of the largest slave auction in American history. The story provides a frequently surprising variety of responses to the events. An author's note discusses the historical record.
Kirkus Reviews
On a day when rain came down "hard as sorrow," George Weems sets out to sell more slaves at one time than anyone ever had. Pierce Butler must sell off hundreds of slaves to cover gambling debts and 12-year-old Emma is one of his victims. Named after Lester's grandmother, whose mother was a slave, Emma is part of a large cast of characters—slaves, owners, businessmen and abolitionists—who tell their own stories, in their own voices. Interludes occasionally have characters return in old age to reflect on their lives since the auction, a brilliant technique that demonstrates, in some characters, the persistence of racist belief. Other, good-hearted, characters, white and black, act towards each other with respect and dignity and affirm the possibilities of conscience and common humanity even in the worst of times. This important novel, based on an actual slave auction in 1859, begs to be performed, though teachers and performers may be hesitant to utter the racist language of the day. Powerful theater and one of Lester's finest works. (cast of characters, author's note) (Fiction. 12+)
Publishers Weekly

Unfolding like a play, Lester's novel in dialogue—based on actual events—cannot help but be informed by his research and writing for his 1969 Newbery Honor book, To Be a Slave. In many ways, the scenes here beg to be dramatized upon a stage; many sections read like monologues, but each contributes to a powerful whole. Some readers may initially have trouble connecting Emma, the children's nursemaid, to her parents, Mattie and Will, the master's manservant. As the book progresses, however, the relationships become crystal clear. The book opens as, in Mattie's words, "The rain is coming down as hard as regret." Master Butler is about to hold an auction to sell off 429 slaves in order to repay a gambling debt. Other details unfold, as Will mentions how he and Master Butler grew up together ("He used to look up to me like I was his big brother"); Emma mentions that Mistress Fannie left her husband a year before, and an author's note explains that Fannie Kemble, who opposed slavery, married Pierce Butler not knowing that he owned slaves. The ultimate betrayal occurs when Master Butler agrees to sell Emma, the only person whom Sara, his oldest child, trusts. Lester poignantly conveys how the auction polarizes the two sisters: Sara who detests slavery, and Frances who sides with her father. Some of the flashback sections (particularly that of the "slave-seller") interrupt the flow of events, but the novel provides a compelling opportunity for children to step into the shoes of those whose lives were torn apart by slavery. Ages 9-13. (Apr.)

School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 6-9-This powerful and engaging historical novel is told in dialogue and through monologues. It also moves around in time, from the period when the story takes place to "interludes," in which the various characters look back on these events years later. It begins with a factual event-the largest slave auction in United States history that took place in 1859 on Pierce Butler's plantation in Georgia. The book introduces Butler, his abolitionist ex-wife Fanny Kemble, their two daughters, the auctioneer, and a number of slaves sold to pay off Butler's gambling debts. Emma, a fictional house slave, is the centerpiece of the novel. She cares for the master's daughters and has been promised that she will never be sold. On the last day of the auction, Butler impulsively sells her to a woman from Kentucky. There she marries, runs away, and eventually gains her freedom in Canada. Lester has done an admirable job of portraying the simmering anger and aching sadness that the slaves must have felt. Each character is well drawn and believable. Both blacks and whites liberally use the word "nigger," which will be jarring to modern-day students. The text itself is easy to read and flows nicely. Different typefaces distinguish the characters' monologues, their dialogues with one another, and their memories. Still, middle school readers may have some difficulty following the plot until they get used to the unusual format. Altogether this novel does a superb job of showing the inhumanity of slavery. It begs to be read aloud, and it could be used in sections to produce some stunning reader's theatre.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* From his first book, To Be a Slave (1968), Lester has told the history of slavery through personal accounts that relay the dehumanizing message of the perpetrators. Here he draws on historical sources to fictionalize a real event: the biggest slave auction in American history, which took place in Savannah, Georgia, in 1859. He imagines the individual voices of many who were there, adults and kids, including several slaves up for sale, the auctioneer, and the white masters and their families buying and selling the valuable merchandise. The huge cast speaks in the present tense and sometimes from the future looking back. A note fills in the facts. The horror of the auction and its aftermath is unforgettable; individuals whom the reader has come to know are handled like animals, wrenched from family, friends, and love. Then there's a sales list with names, ages, and the amount taken in for each person. Brave runaways speak; so does an abolitionist who helps them. Those who are not heroic are here, too, and the racism is virulent (there's widespread use of the n-word). The personal voices make this a stirring text for group discussion. Older readers may want to go on from here to the nonfiction narratives in Growing Up in Slavery.
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (page 177).
Word Count: 25,393
Reading Level: 4.8
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.8 / points: 4.0 / quiz: 86562 / grade: Middle Grades+
Reading Counts!: reading level:5.6 / points:9.0 / quiz:Q37479
Lexile: NP


On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest auction of slaves in American history took place in Savannah, Georgia. More than 400 slaves were sold. On the first day of the auction, the skies darkened and torrential rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the two days, stopping only when the auction had ended. The simultaneity of the rain storm with the auction led to these two days being called "the weeping time." Master storyteller Julius Lester has taken this footnote of history and created the crowning achievement of his literary career.



Julius Lester tells the story of several characters including Emma, a slave owned by Pierce Butler and caretaker of his two daughters, and Pierce, a man with a mounting gambling debt and household to protect. Emma wants to teach his daughters-one who opposes slavery and one who supports it-to have kind hearts. Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to survive, Pierce decides to cash in his "assets" and host the largest slave auction in American history. And on that day, the skies open up and weep endlessly on the proceedings below.

Using the multiple voices of enslaved Africans and their owners, Julius Lester has taken a little-known, all-true event in American history and transformed it into a heartbreaking and powerfully dramatic epic on slavery, and the struggle to affirm humanity in the midst of it.


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