The Listeners


Practically from the minute you were born, somebody was shushing you. Hushing your crying when you were a baby. Yelling at you so you’d be silent as a mouse. Giving you something to do so you’d leave them in peace for five minutes.

You’re a kid and kids make noise. But sometimes, it’s important to stay still and use your ears. In the new book The Listeners by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Mike Benny, three children use their listening skills in a most important way.

All day long, starting well before daylight, Bobby, Sue, and Ella May have jobs to do. But after supper, the three children have more important work.

As the skies get dark, Bobby, Sue and Ella May sneak over to the great house, quiet as little bugs, and they listen beneath the window. Night after night, the children take secrets back to Daddy and Mammy.

Once while listening, Ella May heard that Daddy was going to be sold, but Master said that wouldn’t happen. Cotton picking is a hard job and Ella May has to pick lots to fill her basket. Daddy sometimes helps her by giving her his cotton.

One night Daddy says that listening is doubly important, and that Ella May, Bobby and Sue must remember everything they learn at the window of the great house. What they hear makes Ella May think that their listening job may be over, but Daddy says it’s only just begun.
Sometimes—most times—it’s hard to get small kids to sit still and use their ears. But if you’ve got this book, The Listeners is a self-fulfilling title.

Author Gloria Whelan tells a story of a little girl who does a big job for those in her community, as well as a subtle tale of life as a slave from a kids’ point of view. Little Ella May is spunky and smart but with a sweet innocence.

Or, maybe that adorableness is due to the excellent illustrations by Mike Benny. Benny is generally stingy with color (using mostly earth tones), which gives this book a somewhat furtive tone, which seems just right.

If you’re looking for something that will keep kids quiet for awhile, find this book. For kids ages 3-to-8, The Listeners will have them sitting ears forward.