Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Freedom Summer By Deborah Wiles

Summary: This book tells the story of two best friends, a white boy Joe, and a black boy John Henry in the segregated south of 1964 America. The boys had many similar interests and hobbies, but were not allowed to publicly do many of those things, such as swimming in the neighborhood pool and buying freeze pops at the local store, because of segregation. The summer of 1964, also known as 'The Freedom Summer,' marked a pivotal change in history by passing laws that banned segregation. However, the boys soon find that laws passed and attitudes and actions still carried out do not always coincide.

My Opinion: This story is a great introduction for talking about segregation and civil rights. It explores the child-like innocence that exists while also exposing children to the unfair nature of a 'democratic' society. I think that it is well written and captures the youth experience. It makes you emphasize and want to change the unjust behavior. I also like the simple illustrations that depict hot summer days in the south.

Possible Topics: This book depicts the nature and emotions that exist with segregation. It also is a great way to introduce civil rights and laws passes in the 1960s. It also brings up the point of having laws passed did not mean that the way blacks were treated would change. It can also lead to discussions on what is fair and unfair and trying to see from the perspective of all races.

Literacy/ Social Studies Lessons:
  • Students could write journal entries from the perspective of either John Henry or Joe concentrating on having the students relate to the characters feelings.
  • The students could do character studies on either of the main characters and also compare and contrast the two boys using graphic organizers.
  • Students could write letters to local elected officials from the perspective of a community member of the Mississippi town telling the officials how the new laws are being treated and carried out.

Math/ Social Studies Lessons:

  • Students can calculate the wage differences between blacks and whites of various occupations in the1960s and compare the wage difference of whites and blacks today.
  • Students can research and find out the racial breakdown of the United States in 1964 and what the breakdown of elected officials in 1964 and compare. Analyzing the misrepresentation.

Social Studies Lessons:

  • Introduce and begin to analyze the Civil Rights Act. Do they agree with the laws? Do they think they were effective?
  • Consider and discuss the disparity of law and practice.
  • Discuss if they think that these unfair acts still occur today. Examples of unfair treatment and segregation that the children think of can lead to them writing proactive letters to the organizations or those in charge of the unfair acts.


  1. I also read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles. I love this book and already had it in my own personal library. I feel it could be a great tool when introducing the civil rights movement, segregation, racism, etc. into a classroom. Because it focuses on two friends the students should be able to relate to it.

    I do feel it is important to acknowledge that this book is based on a true event in our history. The beginning of the book includes a summary of the time period. I think it would be interesting to read the story first, then the summary, then read the story again and see if the students' ideas about the book changed.

    There are a lot of activity that you could do using this text. For example, the students could write about a situation where they felt left out in order to bring them closer to the character. There are also the obvious connections to the social studies topics. I think this would be a great initial introduction to Civil Rights and then something to re-visit at the culmination of the unit.

    This book could touch on 4 of the 5 levels of Social Justice Education. It teaches about loving yourself and others you are different than you and also introduces the changes that were happing during the Civil Rights Movement. I do wish it said a little bit more about what happened after the day at the pool, but perhaps that is something the children can create after they learn about some of the ways activists were fighting for rights during the period.

    There were a few websites that listed this book as a resource for Civil Rights topics but only one that suggested its use in a lesson:

  2. I also chose this book. I think this is a good book for fascilitating learning and conversation. I would prompt my students and ask them many questions. For example, Joe and John are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim. If they are best friends and enjoy the same things, then why do you think they can't play together or do the same things? I would also want the children to read the Civil Rights Act and observe their reactions to it, how they feel, if they want to do something about, or if they could write it or change it- what would it read?

    I think children will be able to relate to this book based on the activities the boys enjoy, they are friends, and they are both children. This book can also be used for sensory images: "John Henrys skin is the color of browned butter, he smells like pin needles after a good rain, my skin is the color of pale moths that dance around the porch late at night..." It is also great for comparison, and creating a picture in the reader's mind-detail. I would ask the children: How does it make you feel when John is not allowed into the general store with Joe? Why isn't he allowed in? How can we change the situation to make everyone equal? At the end of the story, John built up enough courage to walk into the general store with Joe because he wanted to do everything that Joe could- that was a wonderful ending and a wonderful story.

    I enjoyed this story because it is based on true facts even though the story was fiction. I think children will be able to relate to this story and come up with wonderful, in-depth conversations. I would want my students to come up with their own feelings, their own emotions and their own ideas to combat change. I would be their to guide them and help them along, but I would want them to talk about what mattered to them. I think I would get lost with this book... which I think is a good thing and I can't wait to read it with my students!!!

    I think this would be a great book to do self-portraits using the skin colored crayons and then having a discussion about it, making a class book, doing community building activities, role playing, etc. This book would be very useful when introduing the Civil Rights Movement, segregation, desegregation, racism, etc. Students can write an extension of the book: What happened after they left the pool? What happened when they went into the general store together?

    This book fits into the social justice education curriculum.
    1- Self-love and acceptance (they remaied best friends in a world of racism.
    2- Respect for others: They both respected each other and their families
    3- Exploring issues of social justice: racism, segregation
    4- Social movements and social change: Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Summer in 1964, both children learned how their lives were different during this time people and how they both struggled for social change
    5- taking social action- (not so much) At the end of the story both boys walked into the general store together, which is taking social action because John Henry was not allowed in that store.

  3. a beautiful book, it brought tears to my eyes

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