How will the art of puppetry tie into my unit? The art of ventriloquism has been in my teaching repertoire for more than twenty-five years. As a result, many puppet characters have evolved along with my first grade curriculum. For example, Willie Sunday, a favorite in the classroom who helps to introduce stories and phonics lessons always misses letters and letter sounds to the squeals and delight of the children. Blue Monday, a compelling young fellow with a bold blue face and bright pink hair, reads stories to my children and helps them with story mapping, (a writing activity that helps with overall comprehension and organizes story into characters, setting, a problem in the story, and a solution to the problem.) Tuesday’s Cup of Sugar, Alphabet Thursday, and Freddie Friday have all gained a stronghold in the classroom through their initiation of the writer’s workshop, interactive writing, modeling classroom stories, and special awards initiatives. Wednesday Delight cannot be missed as she brings new poems for classroom discussion and reading on a weekly basis. All of the puppets contain personalities of their own, interesting voice variations and a flair for bright colorful appearances.
Although for the most part my puppets are full size ventriloquist puppets (dummies with either soft sculptured or hard plastic faces) hand puppets could just as easily be used for introducing stories and leading the class in discussion. If one chooses to omit puppetry entirely from the lessons, this will not weaken the unit. The teacher can easily adapt the lessons by introducing the stories in class.
With all of these characters in mind, Willie will be used for introducing Ringgold’s stories and guiding the children in their discussions. Puppetry will also be used in the Extended Day Program (see appendix) and in our classroom art center where the children make their own puppets and write stories on a more spontaneous basis within a less structured setting. For example, the children are given examples or ideas and then given the option of choosing and making their own crafts and stories. In other words, the teacher is more of a facilitator in guiding the children once they have made their selection.
Faith Ringgold, growing up in Harlem during the depression knew what it was like to feel encouraged and valued for who she was amidst hardship and a prejudiced society. The characters in her stories aspire to their dreams by making them a reality. Rather than getting discouraged and giving up as a result of their surroundings, they take a magical twist, flying above the difficulties as Cassie and Be Be do in
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky.
The characters soon learn that their journey is not devoid of risks and dangerous encounters; however, meeting Harriet Tubman and gaining strength from her bravery, they are able to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Harriet’s flight to freedom from slavery. Harriet Tubman did not gain freedom for herself and so many others without perseverance. Are my children able to move away from instant gratification? Are they able to realize that in order to move beyond the difficulties and become a survivor one must capture the Harriet Tubman spirit -- the spirit of persevering, laboring, and yes flying as Cassie did so as not to become stuck in the tribulations and lose their sense of self-worth? The children will center their discussion on questions such as: What do you think inspired Harriet to be so brave and run for her freedom? Why did she risk her life for others and help them to obtain their freedom? How could you be brave like Harriet Tubman and help others? Do you take risks sometimes? How? Why?
Rosa Parks in Ringgold’s book,
If a Bus Could Talk
, tells how a young girl aspires to freedom by not giving up her seat to a white man on a city bus and how through that act of courage and bravery others were able to stand up for their rights. Willie will ask the children how this act of bravery helped us today. The children will be asked to think about their future -- what they want to aspire to be when they grow up and what obstacles they may have to overcome to accomplish their aspiration. They will write about these goals and aspirations in a writer’s workshop where the children write about a desired accomplishment.
Dinner at Aunt Connie’s House
introduces the children to twelve African American women who having empowered themselves through many hardships and obstacles, have given the African American community and the community at large contributions that have helped to enhance our society and make our world a better place. Mary McCleod Bethune who had to drop out of school to help support the family by picking cotton persevered and finally opened her school for girls with only $5.00 in her pocket. Later she founded the Bethune-Cookman College and was a special adviser to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Willie will ask the children how they think Bethune was able to open a school with so little money? What sacrifices do you think she had to make personally to undertake such an adventure? What would you do if you had no money or very little money to obtain your goals in life? The children will also participate in a craft project making doll characters from the book. They will write about these characters in first person, and participate in a tea party telling about their lives from the stories they have read.
Examples of other Ringgold books,
The Invisible Princess, My Dream of Martin Luther King, Tar Beach,
Counting to Tar Beach
will be used with the children to discuss and write about their special place in life and their family’s life. The children will interview family members, gaining information and writing stories to bring to class and share with their classmates.
A culminating activity will be a drama production based on the story,
If a Bus Could Talk.
(See the appendix.) The production will be rehearsed in our Extended Day Academy and produced on stage for a school-wide assembly sometime during the celebration of Black History month in February.
Through this unit, I want my children to be able to draw upon their inner strengths, enhancing their own academic skills and strengthening their overall social-emotional development. They will do this by listening to the stories of Faith Ringgold where the characters overcame obstacles of hatred in a prejudiced society, empowering themselves through their dreams and aspirations to become the heroes of the past and to make a difference in the lives of others for freedom around the world. Thus, they become the heroes of the present and future by inspiring young people to look beyond their immediate struggles, dreaming to become whatever they want to be and then aspiring to accomplish that desire.