Day of Tears : A Novel in Dialogue Book Poster Image

Day of Tears : A Novel in Dialogue

Interesting story of historic slave auction.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Told through many differing voices, this book examines the issue of slavery in a unique and thoughtful way. Despite the difficult subject matter the anti-racism message is undeniably strong.

Positive role models

Pervasive racism, as whites discuss how blacks don't have theintelligence or emotions of whites, characters admire the KKK, and ingeneral treat slaves as animals or dimwitted children.


Whipping of slaves, a forced fight in which a slave loses an eye, the death of a baby in a rainstorm, a suicide, a son punches his father.

Not applicable

Whites refer to blacks using the n-word.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the way slaves are treated is disturbing -- they are beaten into unconsciousness, treated like animals with no feelings, and separated from their families. Readers will encounter the whipping of slaves, a forced fight in which a slave loses an eye, the death of a baby in a rainstorm, and a suicide.

What's the story?

In 1857, Pierce Butler, a plantation owner deeply in debt due to a gambling habit, held what became the largest slave auction in American history to raise the money to pay off his debts. Author Julius Lester takes this real historical event and tells the story through the eyes of those involved, black and white, both at the time and reflecting back on it years later.

Some of these characters are: Emma, a child slave who takes care of the Butler children and is sold despite a promise to her mother not to sell her; Sampson, a slave who believes in slavery and the inferiority of his race; Sarah, oldest Butler daughter, who takes after her mother in despising slavery; and Jeremiah, a white abolitionist conductor on the Underground Railway, who sets in motion more than he had planned.

Is it any good?


This book's unique format creates a bit of an emotional distance that robs the novel of some of the raw power one might expect from the subject matter. Julius Lester tells the story in the form of snippets of scripted dialogue, thoughts, flashbacks, and quotes from an historical pamphlet that gives the names and prices of those sold at this auction. Though it sometimes can be a bit confusing when read silently, the format does make the story very accessible to elementary-age children, as does the author's careful avoidance of the more sensational and lurid aspects of the story.

The author skips from character to character, and time to time, never letting the reader identify too strongly with any one person. Perhaps the author felt this was necessary to avoid overwhelming young readers. In any case, this is a fascinating and engrossing look at a little-known historical event that encapsulates the institution of slavery.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the historical background of the American slave system.

  • How could people who considered themselves to be good, decent peoplehave treated others in this way?

  • How could the slaves endure it?

  • Howcould Sampson, a slave, come to identify so strongly with being a slavethat he resisted freedom?

Book details

Author:Julius Lester
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Hyperion Books for Children
Publication date:February 5, 2006
Number of pages:177
Award:Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors

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Kid, 10 years old July 14, 2014

amazing book

great book much like Hollis Woods. this book has violence because the slaved are forced to do horrible things .It also has alot of swearing
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Adult Written bymahogany7 April 9, 2008

A discussion starter

I began reading this book in what began as sun filled morning with just a few clouds. As read the novel, it began to rain and my heart grow as somber as the tale Lester begins to tell. As a native of South Carolina and an African American I truly appreciate how this story weaves the history of blacks and their relationships with each other and whites of the times. This novel will begin a conversation of healing and understanding for a terrible time in American history.
Teen, 14 years old Written bychocolate muffins! April 9, 2008