Monday, March 31, 2008

Teaching A Unit on Slavery: Part 2 (Literature Selections)

I hope the first part of my discussion on teaching a slavery unit in school was helpful. CLICK HERE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THAT POST. As I previously stated, the biggest mistake a lot of teachers make is following the text book that their school or school district has given them, it just doesn't tell the whole story and move students in the direction of anti-slavery teachings.

Now that I've talked a little about how to get started and have given a few picture book selections in that first post, I wanted to focus on some literature you can read with your students, have them read in groups, or whatever you decide to do with them. Let's get started:

  • My Jim: A Novelby Nancy Rawles: Feel free to go back to my post on this book by clicking HERE. It's definitely one of the better books I've read on the issue of slavery. It's a re-telling of the story of Jim, the runaway slave of Huckleberry Finn fame, told from the perspective of his wife. It's a book of heartache, terror, more heartache, and of the total shame that came with being a slave. It does have scenes that involve sex, but is done in a way that it's not inappropriate, but it is themed more towards older students, possibly 7th grade and beyond.
  • Day of Tearsby Julius Lester: A powerful short novel in dialogue that begins with the largest slave auction in United States history in 1859. The book follows a some of the people involved, both slaves, slave traders, buyers, and their families. It's told more like a dialogue, in a play format, and does take some getting used to. Wow though, it's a very strong book, a good read aloud, or a good book to have students read in small groups.
  • Elijah Of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis: I recently got this book through the Scholastic Book Clubs, and found it to be a very insightful, powerful book that would be appropriate for my 5th graders. It's the story of Elijah, the first freeborn child in Buxton, Canada. His family, who is free, living north of the slavery line, is saving money to free family in the south, until they are robbed of the money. Elijah embarks on a journey behind slavery lines to free his family, and sees firsthand the horrors of slavery. What makes this book so powerful is the way the mind of a child tries to come to grips with such a sobering reality. It's a long book (352 pages), so it could be a read aloud, or something a few of your students read together.

I realize that I'm starting small here, I'm trying to focus more on what I've found to be great books. There's obviously many more out there, I've thought a few times about adding to the picture book post, but decided to leave it as is. Hopefully in time, through comments and other things, these lists can grow larger. Part 3 of the unit on slavery will discuss a few activities you can do with your students.