We’ve been rowing Who Own The Sun? by Stacey Chbosky last week and this week, which is about a young boy who realizes his father is a slave, owned by a master, and that he, himself is also owned. His father lovingly shows him that the sun, stars, birds, etc. cannot be owned, and neither can a man’s heart or mind. Here are the supplemental activities we did to accompany the book.
First, I had a hard time narrowing down all the possibilities that we could cover on the topic of slavery and the complex and extensive history that followed, including the Underground Railroad, Emancipation, Civil Rights and so on.
First, I needed to define the African slave trade for my first grader. In addition to talking about it, we used the information found here. We also watched a video about slavery on BrainPop (subscription required) and looked at photos I’d taken recently at the America I Am: The African American Imprint, now on exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.
We then looked at our map of the United States and found all of the Southern States. We used printed maps and traced around the Southern States and colored them, then later tried to recall all the names of them.
Our focus then turned to learning about the Underground Railroad. BrainPop Jr. has a unit on Harriet Tubman that we watched. Also, I had ordered three books as go-alongs but only used one fully and another in part. I’ll detail that further below.
We downloaded an astronomy application from iTunes onto my phone that lets you look at the night sky and identify planets, stars and constellations. There are many applications and I’m not really sure if any are better than others but we plan to go outside on a clear night to find Polaris, the North Star, which aided slaves seeking freedom. The North Star is at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper constellation.
We made a Canadian flag and found Canada on the map and spent some time learning about that country, a destination frequently sought out by slaves seeking freedom.
For science, we studied simple machines. In the book, Big Jim uses a lever (to lift rocks) and a wedge (to split wood). We found this easy and fun way to make our own lever using a ruler, a pencil, paper cups, masking tape and coins for weights.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson. I included the information about freedom quilts in our study, but did explain to my children that they may read different things about this throughout their future studies. The existence of quilt codes remains controversial, with historians and scholars in disagreement. This book, while interesting, contains the cover illustration of the main character, Clara, and her friend, Jack, escaping slavery via tiptoeing through a field in broad daylight while looking simultaneously happy and sneaky. Highly doubtful that this is how a risky and likely difficult escape from slavery was made; a crime punishable by beatings, jail and possibly being re-sold to a place far from family and friends. But the book held the interest of my first grader and he asked some great questions, which led to a meaningful discussion between us about slavery.
Show Way by Jaqueline Woodson and Hudson Talbot – Also about freedom quilts. Follows a family for multiple generations. Really a beautiful story but the book has a couple of disturbing images that re-occur throughout the book of slaves being beaten, one of them stripped from the waist down. I knew this would be confusing and upsetting to my children and decided they were a bit young for this level of information about the atrocities of slavery. We will put this book away for later.
Many Thousands Gone: African American From Slavery to Freedom by Virginia Hamilson, et al. This is a companion book to The People Could Fly, which I did not purchase after reading reviews about how abstract the concept might be to young children. In The People Could Fly, slaves escape from a ship and walk home on the bottom of the sea to Africa. Many Thousands Gone, however, presents many short stories of African Americans from early slavery to the abolition of slavery, some well known individuals and some not so well known, but no less inspiring. Due to the short chronicles of each person, this book was perfect for holding the attention of young children and introducing them to great figures in American history.
edited April, 2011 to add: Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter. It’s own FIAR book, this would’ve made a great supplement to our rowing of Who Owns the Sun. Based on a song believed to be used by slaves seeking freedom by following Polaris, the North Star and part of the Big Dipper or Drinking Gourd constellation. This book contains many elements that are historically accurate regarding the Underground Railroad and slaves who sought freedom. I look forward to rowing Drinking Gourd with the Creek kids.
I’m grateful that I found all of these books to add to our home library and we will continue to learn from them in the future.
Next up for F.I.A.R.: Night of the Moonjellies.