• 47
  • 47


4.1 26
by Walter Mosley

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Number 47, a fourteen-year-old slave boy growing up underthe watchful eye of a brutal master in 1832, meets the mysterious TallJohn, who introduces him to a magical science and also teaches him themeaning of freedom.  See more details below


Number 47, a fourteen-year-old slave boy growing up underthe watchful eye of a brutal master in 1832, meets the mysterious TallJohn, who introduces him to a magical science and also teaches him themeaning of freedom.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This thought-provoking, genre-bending account of one slave's emancipation, Mosley's (Fear Itself) first book for young adults, makes for harrowing reading. The narrator, called simply by his number, 47, recalls his life as an enslaved teen on a Georgia plantation in 1832, occasionally interjecting the wisdom he has gleaned in the intervening years. At the "most likely" age of 14 ("Slaves... didn't have ages like the white people did," he explains), 47 is sent to the fields to pick cotton. His life in the slave quarters begins with having his number literally branded on his shoulder in a brutal scene, which palpably captures the cruelty of the period. Mosley's novel is more than a work of historical fiction, however-47 starts off by explaining that these events "happened over a hundred and seventy years ago," and hints that something supernatural is coming. It arrives in the person of "Tall John from beyond Africa," who masquerades as a runaway from a neighboring farm, but who is, in fact, an extraterrestrial searching the galaxy for 47. Those familiar with African-American folklore will recognize him as a variant of High John the Conqueror, a spirit who ultimately sets the slaves free. "Neither master nor nigger be," Tall John repeatedly tells 47, who must unlearn a lifetime of subservience in order to grasp the nature of freedom and its relationship to responsibility. Equal parts history and tall tale, this engaging story related by an endearing narrator is so full of dramatic tension that few readers will realize they're learning something, too. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
An orphaned young slave boy named 47 toils on a Georgia plantation under a vicious overseer until he meets a strange copper-colored teenager who calls himself Tall John. John appears to be a runaway slave, but he reveals that he is really from another planet—and that 47 is "a spirit from the homelandadestined for greatness." John is 47's first real friend, and he teaches him healing and magical arts as well as the philosophy "Neither nigger nor master be." The two are cruelly punished when they take too long returning with medicinal herbs needed for the master's ill daughter, even though they heal her, and 47 and a slave girl in love with John must combine forces to save John when the overseer takes him to his "killing shack." The three run away, and John, who is badly hurt, tells 47 that he must help battle otherworldly creatures to save the planet, as well as free the slaves on the plantation: the true meaning of freedom is the theme that links the two. This is Mosley's first book for YAs; he is known for his excellent Easy Rawlins mystery series as well as other titles. The sections of 47 that deal with slave life are powerfully described and haunting, and the references to the legendary character of High John give the character of Tall John added depth; I found the SF plot less compelling and rather confusing at times. (An eighth-grader of my acquaintance who read this had the same reaction, commenting that the author should have picked one genre or the other and not mixed the two.) I look forward to more YA novels by this wonderful author, however. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, Little, Brown, 232p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Meg Cabot's Avalon High (HarperCollins, 2006) will be a surefire hit with the author's fans. Ellie's parents, medievalist college professors, are on sabbatical and have moved the family from Minnesota to Annapolis, MD, for the school year. Ellie is named after a character in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott." The teen accepts the move and, when she meets Will Wagner and his friends while running in the park with her father, there is an instant connection that changes their lives forever. Will goes to her school, and Ellie's new friends from the girl's track team fill her in on Will and his girlfriend. Ellie doesn't think she has a chance with Will, who is the senior class president and football quarterback, but he soon begins to confide in her and they develop a close friendship. When connections to the world of King Arthur start cropping up and Ellie is warned that Will's life is in danger, she must put all of the pieces together and save her new friend. Each chapter begins with a stanza of poetry from Tennyson's poem, adding to the tension. Listeners will thrill at the exciting "happily ever after" ending, replete with a sinister storm and a sword fight. They may even be enticed to seek out other books about King Arthur and life in Camelot. Actress Debra Wiseman does a splendid job of reading the book with youthful exuberance. She hits all of the right notes, giving each character a realistic personality. This blend of romance, fantasy, and history will keep listeners entranced to the very end.-Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public Library, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Walter Mosley

Little Brown For Young Readers

Copyright © 2005 Walter Mosley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-11035-3

Chapter One

I lived as a slave on the Corinthian Plantation my whole life up to the time that Tall John ran out of the back woods and into my life. I have no idea exactly how long the time before Tall John might have been, but I was most likely about fourteen years old at that time. Slaves didn't have birthday parties like the white children of Master or the white folk that either worked for Master or lived on the larder of his home.

Slaves didn't have birthday parties and so they didn't have ages like the white people did. Big Mama Flore always said that "White peoples gots as many ages as you can count but slaves on'y gots four ages. That's babychile, boy or girl, old boy or old girl, an' dead."

I loved Big Mama Flore. She was round and soft and always gave me a big hug in the morning. She was one of the only ones who ever showed me kindness when I was little. My mother died when I was too young to remember her face. Big Mama told me that my mother, her name was Psalma, had a boyfriend over at the Williams Plantation but she would never tell anybody who he was because she didn't want him getting into trouble for sneaking out to see her in the big house at night.

Flore also told me that that man nobody knew was my father.

"She didn't even tell you his name, Big Mama?" I asked when she would tell me the sad story of Psalma Turner when I was still too little to have to work in the cotton fields.

"No, babychile," Big Mama said. "Master Tobias would'a give a Christmas ham to the nigger tole who had fathered his wife's favorite maid's baby. He'd walk through the slave quarters at night sayin' that he would give the man who looked like Psalma's baby to Mr. Stewart for punishment. So if some slave knew who it was that yo' mama was seein' he would'a done hisself a big favor by tellin' Master Tobias his name. An' onceit Tobias knowed who that slave was he was sure to end up in Mr. Stewart's shack."

Tobias Turner was Master's name and Mr. Stewart was his overseer. The overseer made sure that all us slaves worked hard and didn't cause any ruckus or break the Rules. The Rules were that you did as you were told, didn't talk back, never complained, and stayed in your place.

Mr. Stewart had a shack that stood out in the middle of a stand of live oaks behind the slave quarters. And if you were ever unlucky enough to get sent back there then you were in serious trouble. Many a slave never returned from Mr. Stewart's killin' shack. And those that did come back were never the same.

I hadn't seen Mr. Stewart's torture chamber at that time but I knew about it because I had heard stories from those few souls that survived his torments. They said that he had a pine table that was twice as long as a tall man is tall and that there were leather straps on both ends that he would tie to a slave's wrists and ankles. The straps were attached to baskets filled with heavy stones that would stretch a poor soul's legs and arms out so far from their sockets that afterward the slave could hardly even lift his feet off the ground to walk and he would have to use both of his hands just to get the food to his mouth to eat.

"Yes, sir," Big Mama Flore would say in the backyard under the big magnolia tree that Una Turner's great grandfather planted when he settled the land back before any living slave, even Mud Albert, could remember. "Yes indeedy. If Master Tobias knowed who your father was that man wouldn'ta stood a nigger's chance on the main road at midday."

I was brokenhearted when Big Mama would tell the story about my mother and her sad end. When Psalma died giving birth to me, Una Turner told Master Tobias that I was to remain on her family's plantation for as long as I lived as a remembrance to my mother.

Una loved my mother because of her voice. It was said that Psalma Turner had the most beautiful voice that anyone on Corinthian Plantation had ever heard. Miss Una had a weak constitution and bad nerves and when she would have an attack it was only my mother's singing that would keep her from despair.

Miss Una loved my mother so much, Big Mama Flore said, that she would have been sure to keep me up in the big house with her - if she had lived. But three years after my mother died Miss Una had one of her attacks and without Psalma's singing she succumbed to the malady and passed over to the Upper Level and back to the place that all life comes from.

Some time after Miss Una died Master Tobias named me Forty-seven and told Big Mama that when I was big enough I was meant to live out in the slave quarters and work in the cotton fields with all the other slaves. Master Tobias didn't like me because he blamed my mother for getting pregnant and stealing herself from his property by dying. But he didn't want to sell me off because it was Miss Una's dying wish to keep me on her plantation near my mother's grave.

Until I grew Master Tobias made me live in the barn, feeding and grooming the horses and running any errands that the house slaves had for me. I made myself pretty scarce out there because whenever Master saw me he'd remember my mother and then he'd get mad and look to see if I'd done something wrong. And if there was one straw out of place he would tell Big Mama Flore to get her razor strap and whip my backside. Big Mama didn't want to beat me but she did anyway because Tobias was watching.

After these beatings, when Master was gone, Big Mama would fold me in her arms and apologize.

"I sorry, babychile, but if'n I didn't make you cry he would'a took the strap," she'd say, "and whip you hard enough to draw blood."

"Why he hate me so much, Big Mama?" I'd whine.

"He blame you for his wife dyin'," she'd say. "He just hurt so much inside an' you the on'y one left alive that he could blame."

"But I din't do nuthin'."

"Shhh, baby. You just stay outta Tobias's way. Don't look up when he's around an' always do all your work an' more than that so you don't give him no reason to have me beat you."

We both knew that when I got big enough to work in the fields he'd give me over to Mr. Stewart when he got mad. And Mr. Stewart would use a bullwhip on my bare back. He might even stretch my bones until I was dead.

We both knew that I was safe from Mr. Stewart until I grew big enough to pick cotton, so Mama Flore didn't feed me meat or milk so that I'd stay small and not have to go to work in the cotton fields.

I wasn't allowed in the big house. The only times I was ever there was when Big Mama sneaked me in so I could see how grand the white peoples' lives were.

So I lived in the barn my whole life until just before Tall John came to the plantation. In that time Big Mama Flore made my acquaintance with Mud Albert and Champ Noland. Mud Albert was the oldest slave on the plantation and Champ was the strongest. Champ once carried a fullgrown mule across the yard in front of the mansion. Albert and Champ loved Big Mama and so they told her that they would take me under their wings when I had to go out in the slave quarters and live with the rough element out there.

I spent most of my time working hard and avoiding Master's angry attention. But it wasn't all hard work and beatings. The barn was very large and it had a little window at the very top for ventilation. When nobody was looking I used to climb up to that window and pretend that I was in the crow's nest of some great ship coming from Europe or Africa. I had heard about these ships from some of the slaves that had been brought in chains from across the seas and from some of the house slaves who had seen pictures of the great three-mast sailboats in books from Master's library.

I'd sit up there at the end of the day, watching while the slaves picked cotton in the fields, pretending that I was the lookout put up there to tell the captain when there was some island paradise where we could drop our anchor.

And sometimes, if I was very lucky, I would catch a glimpse of Miss Eloise - Tobias's daughter.

Eloise. She was dainty and white as a china plate. Her pale red hair and green eyes were startling. In my mind she was the most beautiful creature in all of Georgia.

When Eloise would come out to play I'd squeeze down behind the sill of the open window and watch. Even when she was alone she laughed while she played, swinging on her swing chair or eating sweets on the veranda.

Every time I saw her in the yard behind the Master's mansion I got a funny feeling all over. I wanted to go down there and be happy with her but I knew that a nigger (That was back before I met Tall John and he taught me about the word "nigger" and how wrong it was for me to use such a term.) like me wasn't allowed even to look at someone like Miss Eloise.

One day, when Eloise was sitting in her swing chair alone, I stuck my head out to see what she was doing. But I didn't realize that the sun was at my back and that it cast the shadow of my head down into Miss Eloise's lap.

She looked up, squinting at the sun, and said, "Who's up there?"

I ducked down under the windowsill but that didn't stop her from calling.

"Who's up there spying on me?" she cried. "Come out right now or I'll call my daddy."

I knew that if Miss Eloise called her father I'd get more than a whipping from Big Mama's razor strap. He might whip me himself until I was knocked out and bleeding like the slaves I'd seen him bullwhip while they were tied to the big wagon wheel in the main yard.

I stood up and looked out.

"Yes'm, Miss Eloise?" I said. "I been workin' up here. Is it me you want?"

"You were spying on me," she said.

"No, ma'am," I assured her. "I's jes' workin'."

"Doin' what?"

If ever you tell a lie you should know where it's goin'. That's what Mud Albert would tell me. I should have heeded those words before telling Eloise that I was at work. Because there was no work for a groom like me up in the high part of the barn.

"Breshin' the horses," I said lamely.

"There ain't no horses in the top'a the barn," she said, pointing an accusing finger at me. "You're malingering up there, ain't you, boy?"

"I's sorry," I said, near tears from the fear in my heart.

"Come down here," Eloise said in a very serious tone.

I climbed down the ladder from the roof and ran through the barn and to the yard, where the young white girl stood. She wore a yellow bonnet held under her chin by a red ribbon, and a yellow dress with a flouncy slip underneath the skirt. She was eleven years old and pretty as a child can be.

I came up to her with my head hanging down and my eyes on the ground.

"Yes'm?" I said.

"Were you spyin' on me, boy?"

"I was jes lookin', Miss Eloise. I didn't know you was down here."

"Why you lookin' at your feet?" she asked. "You know it's rude not to look at someone when you're talkin' to 'em."

"I ain't s'posed to look at you, ma'am. You's a white lady an' niggers ain't s'posed to look at white ladies."

It was true. Even Fred Chocolate, Master Tobias's butler, was not supposed to look at a white woman straight on.

"You were lookin' at me from up in the barn," she said.

"No, ma'am," I lied. "I mean I looked out but I didn't know that you was there."

"That's not true," she said.

"I swear it is," I said, still looking at my feet.

"Look up at me this instant, you insolent boy," she said then.

I raised my head slowly. I had to look up because Eloise was elevated above me, on the porch. When I saw her face there was a big smile on it.

"Don't be scared," she said. "I won't tell."

My heart skipped at her kind words. I felt as if she were saving me even though it was her threats that I was afraid of.

"Do you want a molasses cookie?" she said.

"Yes, ma'am," I replied.

From a tin can on the swinging chair she brought out a big brown cookie. She knelt down in her pretty dress and handed it to me.

"Now run along," she said. "And don't worry, I won't tell that you were lookin'."

I ran back into the barn and up to my crow's nest. Mama Flore had let me taste the crumbs from cookies before but I never had a whole one, or even a proper piece. I sat up next to the window and ate my cookie, thinking of young Eloise.

I was hoping that somehow she would remember me and make me her page. That way I could always be near her and eat sugary cookies every night of the week.

That was all before I met Tall John and learned that no man or woman should serve another because that made them a slave.


Excerpted from 47 by Walter Mosley Copyright © 2005 by Walter Mosley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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47 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
47 is a strange, interesting book. It's part history of slavery in America, and part science fiction with a mysterious ET. What's even stranger is that the odd combination works. 47 is a 14 year old slave back in 1832. He's always out in the cotton fields picking cotton, feeling sorry for himself. Along come a mysterious stranger named Tall John. 47 thinks Tall John is a slave too, until he finds out that the stranger is really an alien from another world, with unusual powers. At first 47 assumes that Tall John is there to free him and the other slaves, but Tall John is really there to help 47 fight against the Calash, enemies of Tall John's race from his home planet. Capable of making themselves look exactly like humans, they are controlling real humans and must be defeated. 47 turns out to be brave and bold (as Tall John knew all along) and he and other slaves rise up against the Calash and save our world. By living up to his potential and full abilities, 47 shows that no matter who you are, adversity can be overcome with courage and conviction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book! I love that its historical but also fantsy. Every one should read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
47 combines science fiction with history to make a book that is strangely interesting. I have to admit that at times I had to reread a sentence or two because I didn't exactly know what was going on, but other than that this book is a one of a kind that's hard to forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books i have ever read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first 50 pages were an engrossing and excellent first-person historical perspective of slavery, but it was unfortunate that a space alien was unnecessarily brought into the mix. Still, the story stayed interesting and absorbing, in spite of the sudden genre shift and definitely well worth a read. Just don't expect anything more than mild entertainment. Would have rather read 150 pages more like that first 50.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book. Its sooo... intresting to read about things that really happened meanwhile its fiction or sci-fi. Once I read the first couple of pages I read the whole book it was like I was in the book I could picture It so.. well!
Guest More than 1 year ago
really, really good! i thought the sci-fi aspect wouldn't work well historically, but it did! very beautifully written. a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. I couldn't stop reading this book. I like the way they mixed the two genres of writing together. This book deserves an Award.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A class of 15 ninth grade special needs students read this book and claims it's only second to The Outsiders! Engaging, nicely paced, and thought provoking, this book generated many memorable discussions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of 47 a 14yr old slave boy was at times heart breaking and inspiring I think this book should be a required reading for middle school. Although I didn't care much for some of the science fiction parts this is a excellent book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Walter Mosley's book 47 is an interesting combination of fantasy and slavery. It really expresses the horror of slavery, but Mosely doesn't explain his fictional world very well. If you enjoy two types of writing mixed together I think you will like 47. So have at it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mosley did an excellent job mixing history with science fiction. I am not very fond of Mosley's science fiction but I must admit he kept me turning the pages on this one. I hope to see the character 47 again in future adventures.