This week, I’m finishing up my last novel study this year with my 8th graders, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.
No matter how many times I’ve taught a novel, I always read a little ahead each year I teach it again. This weekend, I finished up this book (probably for my 4th or 5th read) and I find myself thinking that it’s so much better than I even remember!
Civil rights issues have always been a favorite teaching topic of mine regardless of the grade I was teaching at the time. I teach The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 with my 7th graders. It’s fabulous historical fiction but the best part of The Watsons is the figurative language I can teach with it. The problem with The Watsons is that it’s just too lighthearted to deal in depth with tough issues.
That’s why I’m so glad to be reading this book with my 8th graders. Roll of Thunder is so much more serious than The Watsons and really puts into perspective what things were like in the south in the 1930’s. The book is a glimpse into the life of a hard-working African-American family living in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Enduring the hardships that most Americans are facing is compounded by racial tensions in the south. As you read the book, you fall in love with the Logan family and admire the way they stand up for what they believe is right and have self-respect for themselves and show it to others who deserve it (and even some who don’t), rising above the hatred and oppression to stick to their morals and principles.
My 8th graders have already been shocked and horrified at some of the events in the book and it has sparked some great open discussions. I find myself becoming more and more bold each year with tough topics like this one, and I can see that my students appreciate being able to talk openly about subjects that are usually taboo.
Onto another book with a serious subject of another nature – Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin.
I’m currently using this book as a choice for my 7th grade lit circles, but I’m careful about the students I assign to this group since the subject matter is a bit mature. Although there’s nothing sexually inappropriate (which is usually the reason for my censorship) and the language isn’t obscene enough for a ban, the mere issues in the book make it for mature 7th graders and up. This is the book for you to hand to your realistic fiction readers that like edgy and controversial books.
In The Rules of Survival, Matthew spends his time trying to protect his two younger sisters from their abusive mother. The problem with her abuse is that it isn’t QUITE BAD ENOUGH to call the authorities and get the children taken away, and Matthew realizes that. He feels trapped and lost and at times helpless in protecting his sisters. When his mother starts dating Murdoch, things are better than ever! But Matthew knew the fairy tale couldn’t last, and when Murdoch inevitably breaks up with his mother, things are worse than ever. How will Matthew protect his sisters? I’m telling you… this one is soooooo good!
I started reading The Great Gatsby this week. One of my 8th graders read it and asked me to read it and then two of you indicated it as your favorite historical fiction novel. I’m about 1/4 way though the book, and to be honest, I’m having quite a difficult time with it. So far, there’s a lot of dialogue, background information, and dinner parties. I’m hoping I can get more into it!