This teacher’s guide on the Black History trilogy was prepared for Candlewick Press by Taunya Nesin, a graduate of the masters program in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College at Columbia University.
Keep a Reading Journal
Have students keep a journal throughout the reading and discussion of these books. Display the covers of the books and ask the students to write about their first impressions of the books based on their titles and the cover art. What are they about? Are they related to each other? If so, how are they connected? What do the titles mean? The student will use this first entry to create a KWL chart (see below).
Throughout the unit, students should write about feelings, questions, and comments that they have. Students may want to address class discussions in their journals and write their opinions about things they have read. Students should also list questions for discussion or further research.
Create a KWL Chart
Ask the students to bring their journal entries and share their thoughts about the book covers. Create a chart with three columns titled “What We Know, What We Want to Know and What We Learned.”
Ask students to give you examples of what they know about these times in history. Then ask students to list their questions. These questions will go in the middle column. The third column can be filled periodically during the unit or after the unit is over. Depending on the time you have allotted for these books, you may want to create a chart for each book.
No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance
Slaves struggled to adapt to their new lives. Describe some ways in which slaves resisted their masters’ control.
How did the elders help the young feel “more hopeful and confident”?
Why was it against the law to teach slaves to read and write? How did slaves get around this law?
What was the Underground Railroad?
How did black Americans participate in the Civil War?
Explain the meaning of: Middle Passage, mutiny, oral tradition, resistance, “the Promised Land,” abolitionist, Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation
Free at Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation
To which states did the Emancipation Proclamation first apply?
How did slave holders continue to keep their former slaves as indentured servants?
Why was the Thirteenth Amendment needed? What did it mean for the slaves?
How did southern whites get around laws to keep blacks from making new lives for themselves?
What does “separate but equal” mean to you? What did segregation really mean for black Americans?
Why did other black leaders have problems with some of Booker T. Washington’s ideas?
The illustration on page 36 shows a man holding a mask. What emotion does the mask show? How does the man really feel?
List some of the ways black Americans organized to fight for their rights. How were these movements similar? Do you think they were successful?
How did Thurgood Marshall obtain evidence to prove that segregation was damaging black children? What do you think would happen if someone asked those questions to children today?
Explain the meaning of: “apprenticeship” laws, Black Codes, Ku Klux Klan, suffrage, Exodusters, sharecropping, lynching, John Henry, “policy of accommodation,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” Harlem Renaissance, segregation.
Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement
Who was Emmett Till? Why was the trial of the men who
murdered him so significant?
What is nonviolent direct action? How did black Americans use this approach to change policies in the United States?
Who were Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.? How did they differ in their ideas? How did the civil rights activists bring education and voter registration to the black communities?
Explain the meaning of: NAACP, civil rights, bus boycott, school integration, sit-ins, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” Freedom Rides, “We Shall Overcome,” the Voting Rights Act.
Tying It All Together
Out of all the true stories you have heard in these three books, which one is the most interesting or inspiring to you?
Themes of strength, courage, and dignity course through these stories of the black American experience. Choose a story from each book that best portrays these themes. Compare and contrast how the people in the stories face the obstacles in front of them.
Discuss the author’s style of writing. Why did she intersperse poetry, songs, and narratives throughout the books? Do you think her style succeeded in strengthening this history? Explain.
Compare the illustrations for “The Story of Adeline” (No More! pp. 25-26) and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” (Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round p. 32). What is similar about the figures in the paintings? Why do you think the artist chose to show the shadows of the slaves and the front images of the blacks at the courthouse?
What is your favorite song or poem in these books? Why? Had you heard this song or poem before? In what context?
Discuss challenges facing black Americans today. Who are some present-day leaders? What are their goals? How will we know when equality has been attained? What policy changes would you make to give better opportunities to people who are in need?
Create a Local Timeline
Have the students create a timeline of events from their city or town during the time periods covered in this trilogy. The timeline should reflect important events in black history as well as monumental events in the city’s history. Divide the class into three groups. Each group will be responsible for researching important local events during 1619-1863, 1863- 1954, and 1954-1965. Briefly describe and illustrate each event on a large piece of paper. Display the timeline by putting all of the events in order around the walls of the classroom.
Shane W. Evans uses paintings to depict the stories of these time periods. Break the students into groups to create murals. Their murals could illustrate one story, multiple stories from one book, or all of the time periods of the trilogy. Display these murals in your classroom and invite other classes to view them.
Write Songs and Poems
Bring in recordings of songs featured in the books. If possible, have the students learn the songs; the music teacher might be involved. Encourage students to write their own songs or poems about the time periods covered in the books. Allow time for sharing these pieces with the rest of the class.
Perform a Play
Invite students to break into groups of three or four. Ask the students to create a play about an event in a book. The play can focus on one event or include a series of events. Give students time to practice and perform their plays.
Listen to a Guest Speaker
Invite a guest speaker who had direct experience with the civil rights movement to speak to your students. Ask the speaker to bring in any photos of himself or herself at the time. The speaker should address the politics of the movement and how it affected his or her life, including everyday life, during that time and today. Have the students prepare questions to ask the speaker.
Write Dialogue Between Characters of Different Time Periods
Ask students to imagine what the people of the different time periods would say to each other if they were able to communicate. The dialogues could be between people on opposite sides of the issues, such as Edward Covey and Martin Luther King Jr., or they could be between two people sharing stories, such as Vina and Rosa Parks. Students can use their journals to write the dialogues. Give students the opportunity to share their dialogues with the class.
Discuss Current Injustices and Goals for the Future
Students played an important part in changing the segregated society. After completing the KWL chart, ask the students to research equality in today’s world. They can cover topics such as dropout rates, literacy, and job status among people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Ask: Do you feel all people are given equal opportunities today? What are some current injustices that need attention? How can people of all ages make a difference? Chart the students’ answers and display them.
Elders told stories about the weak outwitting the strong to empower the children. Ask the students to think about stories from their childhood that had a positive impact on them. Have volunteers tell the stories to their classmates and explain how this story gave them courage when they were facing a challenge.
Free At Last!:
Discover the Harlem Renaissance
Bring in the literature of Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen. Look through art books featuring works by Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, and Palmer Hayden. Listen to music by James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Throw a party where the students wear 1920s clothing and dance to music from the era. Try to have them copy the moves of the Lindy Hop, a dance originated in Harlem during that era. This dance can be seen in the 1992 film Malcolm X.
Jackie Robinson was able to succeed on the baseball field despite constant jeers and name-calling. Ask the students: How would you have reacted in this situation? Have the students write a journal entry about a time when they faced ill treatment. Ask: How did you deal with the problem? Would you do anything differently if it happened again?
Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round:
Ask each student to interview a relative or family friend who lived in the United States during the civil rights movement. Ask how they participated they had in the movement or, if they didn’t participate, how they felt about what they read about what was going. Give the students time to share their interviews with the class. Were there many similarities between the experiences of the interviewees?
Re-create Moments in the Civil Rights Movement
Bring in photographs and/or video footage of significant moments in the civil rights movement. Ask the students to write in their journals how they feel about these images.
Read and discuss speeches by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and David Dennis. The PBS video Eyes on the Prize is a great reference for visual material and