- Slavery in the North. What do your students know about slavery in the North? Before reading Chains or Forge, have students list what they know and what questions they have. After they finish one or both books, they can examine Douglas Harper’s well-documented “Slavery in the North” website at: http://www.slavenorth.com/index.html as a starting point for research .
- Paired Texts. Have some students in class read the novel Forge and others read Washington at Valley Forge, a nonfiction chapter book by Russell Freedman (see below). Use book-based groups as a “home base” for exploring each text, the conditions faced by the soldiers, and the political climate during the winter of 1777-1778. Next, jigsaw the students in mixed-book groups. Have students compare and contrast their understandings of the events at Valley Forge. What similarities and differences emerge? How were their understandings of the history shaped by their readings of historical fiction versus nonfiction ? If time permits, all students could read both books, for a more in-depth examination of both this period during the American Revolution and the genres of historical fiction and nonfiction literature.
- Local History. If you teach in one of the original thirteen colonies, who were the African-American soldiers who fought from your town, city, county, or state? Go to your local historical society or seek out the reference librarian at your local library, and try to locate the names of African-Americans who fought during the American Revolution. Using the print and digital resources available to you through your local library and historical society, have students research these soldiers. Who were these men? What did they do before and after the war? Were they free or enslaved? Did they have families ? There are many ways to share this knowledge with the community. Students could write and illustrate their own historical fiction or biographies. As a class, they could write a collected biography of these men and women. Or, with the help of the historical society and/or library staff students could create an exhibit to put on display honoring these veterans.
- Point-of-View and Writer’s Craft. Chains is written from Isabel’s first person point-of-view, and Forge is written from Curazon’s first person point-of-view. How would the books be different in Anderson decided to write from both characters’ points-of-view in alternating chapters ? Have students take a scene from Forge from Part III, and rewrite it so that it’s from Isabel’s point-of-view, keeping the dialogue exactly the same. As students share their samples, ask them to consider how their understanding of and interpretation of Isabel as a character has been deepened by this exercise . Have students predict how the third novel in the trilogy will be written. Would they recommend alternating chapters?
- Camp Conditions and Supplies. Compare and contrast the conditions in Valley Forge with conditions experienced by American soldiers stationed overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq during the early stages of the respective invasions in 2001 and 2003. Using the digital databases available through your local library, locate newspaper accounts of the conditions in the 21st century and compare them to conditions at Valley Forge. What problems were experienced? What caused a lack of supplies? Who was to blame? What similarities exist between these very different events, despite the difference in time periods? Who ultimately benefits from these wars, and at whose risk or expense?
- Integrated Armed Forces. In the Appendix of Forge, author Laurie Halse Anderson states, “The American Revolution was the last war in which black and white Americans served in integrated units until the Korean War in 1950” (p. 288). Have students discuss their reactions to that statement. Are they surprised? What assumptions lie beneath their reactions? Explore some of the documents and photographs on the “Desegregation of the Armed Forces” section of the Harry Truman Presidential Library Webpage at: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/index.php?action=chronology. What are some of the similarities and differences between the experiences of black soldiers in the 18th century and the 20th century? What were some of the reasons why it took so long to desegregate the military? Is segregation still practiced in the military today? To explore more closely the roles African-American soldiers played in World War II, go to “African-Americans During World War II” at the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/ww2-pictures/#army .
- A specialized look at the role of spies in the American Revolution.
- A specialized look at the events that unfolded at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.
- This first book in Isabel and Curazon’s trilogy is set in New York City in 1776. Isabel , promised her freedom upon the death of her Rhode Island owner, is sold and enslaved, along with her sister to Ruth, to the cruel Lockton family of Manhattan. In this brutally honest portrayal of slavery in the northern colonies, Curazon encourages Isabel to help the Whig cause by spying on her Tory owners.
Anderson, M.T. (2006). The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the nation. Volume I: The pox party. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
- These lengthy, sophisticated works of young adult historical fiction provide readers with a complex and dramatic portrait of a Octavian, an enslaved African from New England attempting to find his rightful place during the American Revolution.
- As young adult nonfiction, this text provides an in-depth examination of the causes of the American Revolution that goes beyond a recitation of the usual refrains “taxation without representation” or “give me liberty or give me death.” Aronson presents the war within the context of the global economy, and how England’s wealth hung in the balance of her colonies in America and Asia.
- Now out of print, this nonfiction title is worth seeking out from used booksellers for its in-depth and complex portrait of the role free and enslaved blacks, like Curazon, played in the American Revolution.
- Freedman’s account of the winter of 1777-1778 provides readers of Forge with the other side of the story, and the ways in which Washington and others worked behind the scenes to reconstruct the Continental Army’s supply lines and restore the dignity and morale of the solders.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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