Cassie Louise Lightfoot, an eight year old child, shares her wishes and dreams in a story that takes place in 1939 on a tarred flat roof of her family’s Harlem apartment building where her family and friends gather in the warm summer evening. Her family has difficulty managing on her father’s meager salary due mainly to the impact of a prejudiced society that does not allow him to advance in his blue-collar construction job. Cassie loves to dream at night from the tarred flat roof that her father is rich and even owns the Union Building. She dreams of flying over the George Washington Bridge and wearing it as a diamond necklace around her neck. She sees the beauty in the skyscrapers and dreams of flying to all of the places that she admires.
Week One First Day
As an introduction to our unit, Willie will tell the children that we will be taking a journey with Faith Ringgold and her stories of African American heroes who have helped to shape America’s history and make an impact on what we do and how we are treated in our society today. Willie will show the children a picture of Faith Ringgold from her book,
and tell them that just like the little girl in the story, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, Ringgold grew up in Harlem also. Willie will ask the children questions about a tarred rooftop making sure that they know and understand that this is an area that many families use for gatherings while living in a high-rise apartment complex. He will show them pictures from the book, and explain that Faith Ringgold’s family often went up on the rooftop during a hot summer’s night. The children were allowed to stay up late lying on a mattress while their parents played cards and talked with the extended family. In her book, Mr. and Mrs. Honey had more money than Cassie’s family. Faith Ringgold describes how those couples that did not have children always seemed to have more money. These couples would constantly refer to honey this, and honey that, so she named a couple in the book Mr. and Mrs. Honey. In
Cassie dreams that her mother would be able to laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey and have ice cream every evening for dessert.
After helping to read the book in class, Willie will lead the class in a discussion of the story. Why do you think people in the city want “tar” beaches? Would you like to have your own “tar” beach? Why? What would you dream about if you had your own “tar” beach? Do you think Cassie felt better after she dreamed about flying around the city? Why? What problems do you think you have that you could fly above or even conquer some day? Willie will challenge the children to dream about what they can conquer or become some day if they will put their mind to it and determine with their attitude that they can triumph over anything.
If possible, as a follow up activity, the children will take a trip to New York City. They will be given the opportunity to visit the Empire State Building, and look for “tar” rooftops as they scan the horizon of the city. They will see the George Washington Bridge, and pick out other buildings that they think might have been in the story.
Week One Day Two
The children have been told to bring items for a day at the beach. They may bring a beach towel, sunglasses, sun block, a shovel and pail, etc. The children will spread their items on the floor, and pretend that they are Cassie, flying anywhere and doing anything that they wish. After a few moments of dreaming, they will write a story about where they have gone and what they have done. They will also write about their feelings, and why they have those feelings. These stories will be shared with their classmates and illustrated at their seats. The children’s stories and illustrations will be bound into a big book and placed in our classroom library.
Week One Day Three
Faith Ringgold’s story,
originated from a story quilt that she had made. The text was written on fabric strips around the border of the quilt with a large picture of a family enjoying a picnic on a roof top while two children, Cassie and her younger brother Be Be, are lying on a mattress. The border also contains scraps of fabric with bright colorful flowers that accentuate Cassie’s dreams of rich and beautiful places.
A small committee of children will work on a large picture from the story that will be used in the center of our story quilt. The class will draw and color bright pictures of flowers. The children’s version of Faith Ringgold’s characters will be placed along with the flowers for the border of the quilt. The children will vote in class and decide to whom we will dedicate our quilt, and where it will be hung so that others may enjoy the finished product.
Week One Day Four
Two colorful easy books,
Counting to Tar Beach,
Cassie’s Colorful Day
will be read by Willie to the children. In the book,
Counting to Tar Beach,
Ringgold depicts objects from the story,
and uses sets for counting from one to ten. For example, on one page she has a drawing of four chairs. The page describes four chairs for Mommy, Daddy, and Mr. and Mrs. Honey to sit on while they are playing cards. On other pages she uses food for counting, and on the last page she has a drawing of a quilt with ten blocks in the center representing the number ten. All of the objects in the story are used by Cassie’s family for having a picnic on the rooftop.
In the book,
Cassie’s Colorful Day,
Cassie’s dad is taking her out for a surprise treat. Ringgold describes the clothing they are wearing, objects they carry and see, and finally the special treat -- a strawberry ice cream sundae at her favorite ice cream parlor. The color words are accented in heavy bold print on each page.
Willie will lead the class in a discussion about colors. What colors do you like best in the book,
Cassie’s Colorful Day.
Why? Is there anything about the colors that remind you of something at home, on the way to school, in school, etc.? Willie will tell the children that by mixing some colors, another color is produced. The children will be given the opportunity to experiment with colors at their art station during center time.
Week One Day Five
As a follow up activity, the children will make their own little published books modeled after the book,
Counting to Tar Beach.
They will think of a special theme. For example, they could choose a picnic at a park. On each page they will draw sets to correspond to numbers from one to ten. Each page will reflect their theme -- one table cloth to place our food, three plates with fried chicken, five cups of lemonade, etc.
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
Just like in
Cassie Louise Lightfoot returns to flying in the skies. Cassie and her younger brother Be Be soar above mountain tops which look like rock candy and oceans like tiny cups of tea, and meet the Underground Railroad train. They encounter a tiny woman who is wearing a conductor’s uniform. The woman is Harriet Tubman who takes Cassie and Be Be through the horrifying world of a slave plantation and a terrifying journey of escape.
Week Two Day One
Faith Ringgold gives a historical account of Harriet Tubman at the end of her book,
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky.
Willie will show a picture from the book of Harriet Tubman, and tell the children that she was born a slave in 1820 in Bucktown, Maryland. Harriet’s father taught her how to survive in the woods by hunting, swimming, and imitating bird calls. Her mother taught her nursing skills, using herbs for medicine found from common plants in the woods. Although Harriet Tubman could neither read or write, with the skills that her parents taught to her she was able to escort over 300 slaves to freedom in her famous Underground Railroad, to the anger and bitterness of the plantation owners of that time. She made 19 trips to escort the slaves to freedom, and although she narrowly escapes, not one person was lost. Her trips included her mother and father and all of the brothers and sisters.
Willie will tell the children that in the story they will hear about a circle of women all dressed in white surrounding Cassie in the sky. Faith Ringgold explains in her historical account that Harriet Tubman had a dream while ill and near death from an injury inflicted by her slave master. In her dream, Tubman was helped to escape by a circle of ladies dressed in white. Ringgold used this dream in her story, as well as the custom of throwing a quilt over a rooftop to bring good luck. In the story, a quilt is thrown over the roof of a house to let the slaves know it was safe to come out of the woods and enter the house for hiding.
Willie will assist in reading the story and leading a discussion with the children. On numerous occasions having successfully escaped and gaining her freedom Harriet Tubman narrowly escaped from being recaptured. Why do you think after receiving her freedom she went back to the plantations and risked her life to save so many people? It was against the law to teach a slave the skills for reading and writing. Some slaves, however, learned to read and write either on their own initiative or from a slave owner who taught them for their own economic gain or on rare occasions out of the kindness of their heart. Harriet was one of the unfortunate slaves who could neither read nor write. Even though she could neither read nor write would you call Harriet Tubman unintelligent? Why? Do you think it would have been an easy task to plan escape routes for the slaves to travel on the Underground Railroad? Why or why not? It was against the law to harbor runaway slaves. Therefore, the people who helped the slaves to escape were risking their lives also. Would you have wanted to risk your life to hide the slaves? Why or why not? How would you have helped where would you have hid the slaves?
Week Two Day Two
The children will watch an animated cartoon style video about Harriet Tubman. The video focuses upon Harriet’s daring plan of escape for her family and her deep faith in God as she helps so many escape the horrible chains of slavery. The selflessness and great risks that Harriet took regardless of her personal safety will surely inspire the children to accomplish their very best in the tasks that seem difficult in their young lives. Many times the myriad of social-economic problems that the children bring to the classroom each day overshadow the tasks set before them in first grade. It is like a cloud that hinders them from accomplishing their very best or from producing at all.
After watching this inspiring account of Harriet Tubman risking all for her freedom for so many others, the children will be challenged to write a first person story in which they describe helping someone escape to freedom. The children will discuss possible solutions for forming an escape route, and then write their own account and illustrate the story.
The Invisible Princess
In a tiny village called Village of Visible, in the deep south, there live two slaves called, Mama and Papa Love. They do not want any children of their own for fear of what the slave master Captain Pepper, will do to their child. However, one day, the Great Lady of Peace came to tell Mama Love that she will have a child -- a baby girl. The Great Lady of Peace promises Mama Love that her girl will be a princess and bring peace, love, and freedom to the Village of Visible. Mama Love begs the Great Lady of Peace to hide her baby and protect her. Great Lady of Peace asks Prince Night to conceal her from all human eyes. One day Patience, the slave master’s daughter, who is blind, is playing in the cotton fields, and sees a little girl about her age. She is so happy that she can see the little girl and runs home to tell her father. Captain Pepper becomes very angry and wants to harm Mama and Papa Love. Patience finds the Invisible Princess and warns her of Captain Pepper’s plans. Through the help of the Queen of the Bees, anyone who is stung by the Queen or her army and eats the honey cakes becomes invisible. Captain Pepper discovers that not only is nobody in the cotton fields, but his own daughter, Patience, is invisible too. Finally, Captain Pepper is sorry for all of the cruelty and pain he has brought to the slaves. He begs for forgiveness and wants to be stung by the bees so that he too can eat the honey cakes and enter the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love.
Week Two -- Day Three
After assisting in the reading of
The Invisible Princess
, Willie will help to lead the children in a class discussion. Do you think that Faith Ringgold used any historical accounts to tell the story like she did in
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
? What historical account did she use? How was the Invisible Princess like Harriet Tubman? How was she different? Did you like the character Captain Pepper in the story? Did you change your mind about Captain Pepper at the end of the story? Why or why not? Would you like to enter the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love? Why? Do you think that by becoming invisible your problems would go away? How? Is there a better way to solve problems than by becoming invisible? Tell us a better way.
At the end of her story, Ringgold shares a poem she wrote about the Invisible Village. We will write a class poem modeled after Ringgold’s poem. We will give our village a name, tell who lives there and what we do in our village. Ringgold dedicates the poem to the “freedom of every man and woman and every girl and boy.” We will decide to whom and what we want to dedicate in our poem.
Week Two -- Day Four
Today Willie will tell the children that they are going to write a story about their own Invisible Village. What will your village be called? What will it look like? Who will live in your village? What will you do in your village? How will you feel in your village? Why? The children will illustrate their stories, and their finished products will be displayed on a bulletin board in the school hallway.
My Dream of Martin Luther King
Ringgold writes the story in first person about a young girl who is watching a television program about Dr. Martin Luther King. She falls asleep and dreams about Dr. King when he was a child about six years of age. He encounters all kinds of prejudice including a time when he is arrested and put in jail for demonstrating for freedom and justice with a group of peaceful demonstrators. While his mother visits him in jail she holds him and tells young King that someday he will find a way to change things. However, she tells him that he will not find a way to change things today because it is Sunday and they must go to church to hear his father preach. After this part in the story, Dr. King becomes a minister and leads many groups in protest of injustice to the African American community. His famous speech at the nation’s capital is woven into the story, as well as his death and the nation’s mourning.
Week Two -- Day Five
Willie will assist in the reading of the story,
My Dream of Martin Luther King,
and lead in a discussion of the story. He will tell the class that in her book, Faith Ringgold tells about the history of the civil rights movement -- Dr. King organizes the group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who encourage a boycott against segregated buses, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, demonstrations for decent housing, and voter registration for Black people, along with jobs for all people. Willie will ask the children how they feel Dr. King made a difference for them today. Dr. King encouraged the people to be peaceful in their demonstrations. Do you think this was the best way or should he have used violence? Why or why not? Suppose someone hurts your feelings by calling you unkind names -- what is the best way to react? How can you be peaceful today and still change things that are not right?
Two other books,
Happy Birthday Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King, Jr.
will be read in class as resource books for more information about the history of Dr. King.
Week Three -- Day One
Today the children will be asked to write an essay. They will use the theme “I have a dream…” The children will reflect on how they can become better citizens and help the world to become a better place. They may draw from Dr. King’s strengths in their writing. For example, Dr. King stood firm for justice even though he was treated unfairly. He thought about making a difference for others, and took risks so that people everywhere could be treated equally. How can you take a risk so that you can make a difference for people everywhere? The essays will be illustrated by the children and displayed in the school hallway.
If a Bus could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks
As a young girl Rosa Parks walks many miles to her one-room school building in Alabama while the white children ride to their school on a bus. Late Rosa becomes old enough to have a job and she rides on the city bus. However, she may not sit in the same row with a white person. One day, Rosa is asked to give up her seat to a white man because there are not enough seats on the bus. Rosa is courageous and refuses to give up her seat. The bus driver calls the police, and Rosa is arrested and taken to jail for breaking the segregation laws.
Week Three -- Day Two
As Willie assists in reading the story, the children soon discover that in Ringgold’s book,
If a Bus could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks,
a bus does the talking. The book helps the children to understand through the character Marcie that Rosa Parks is the mother of the Civil Rights movement. At the end of Marcie’s magical ride she meets Rosa Parks at a birthday party held in her honor. Willie will lead the class in a discussion about Rosa Parks’ bravery in standing up or rather sitting down for freedom. What makes Rosa Parks an outstanding hero for our time? How do you think her act of courage has helped people around the world? Do you think you could be brave like Rosa Parks knowing that you might be arrested and put into jail? Was it a good thing for Rosa Parks to break the law which said that an African-American must give up their seat to a white person on the bus? Why?
Puppetry will be used in our art center where the children make their own puppets and write stories on a more spontaneous basis within a less structured setting. The children will be given instructions (i.e., make a puppet and write a story about Rosa Parks.) After the child has decided which character they want to make into a puppet -- Rosa Parks, Marcie, people on the bus, etc. then the teacher becomes a facilitator and helps to guide the child as they produce their project.
In a follow-up activity the children will take part in a drama production based upon Ringgold’s book. (See appendix.) The production will be rehearsed during the After School Program and take place in school when classes are asked to participate in a Black History Assembly. At the assembly, the children will sing a Black Spiritual called, “Oh Freedom.” Rosa Parks tells Marcie that her mother used to sing this old Negro Spiritual and that it inspired her belief in freedom.
Another follow-up activity will include a writer’s workshop where the children write about what they want to become when they grow up. They will be asked to think about a future profession to which they would like to aspire and the training needed to accomplish their goal. They will also think about obstacles that they may have to overcome, and what they will do to become successful. These written works along with the other writings from the unit will be placed in a special folder in the classroom.
Dinner at Aunt Connie’s House
Melody is a little girl who visits her Aunt Connie and Uncle Bates in their beautiful house on the beach in Sag Harbor, Long Island. Lonnie, an adopted son of Aunt Connie and Uncle Bates, along with Melody, find Aunt Connie’s paintings in the attic. To their surprise the paintings can talk. Twelve African-American women (Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McCleod Bethune, Augusta Savage, Dorothy Dandridge, Zora Neale Hurston, Maria W. Stewart, Bessie Smith, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marian Anderson, and Madame G. J. Walker) tell their stories to Melody and Lonnie. Just as they finish Uncle Bates finds the children in the attic and asks them to assist in taking the paintings downstairs to hang in the dinning room. The surprise paintings are revealed to the family who has sat down to a dinner of roast turkey, duck, cranberry sauce, corn bread, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, candied sweet potatoes, and fresh greens.
Week Three -- Day Three
After the story has been read by Willie, he will lead the children in a class discussion. Did the paintings really talk in the story? How did they talk to Melody and Lonnie? Tell us about a favorite painting and what the person in the painting accomplished. After telling about their favorite person, the children will make their own paintings and write what their person is saying.
Week Three -- Days Four and Five
Today the children will make a doll character out of paper. They will use a pattern and cut two pieces. They will decide which character they would like their doll to represent, and design their doll to look like the character. They may look at the book, Dinner at Aunt Connie’s House or other books for ideas about designing their dolls. They may also look up their favorite character on the Internet at their computer station, and gather additional ideas for their dolls, along with factual information. The dolls will be pasted and stuffed to give them dimension. The children will write short stories based upon facts from Ringgold’s book or facts that they have read about on the Internet. After the dolls and writings have been completed, the children will read their stories with their dolls at a tea party.
A follow up activity will involve parents or grandparents from our classroom. Parents will be asked to come into our classroom and share an obstacle from their young days and how they overcame the problem. They will also be asked to share about their careers or dreams for the future, and how they overcame any obstacles or how they are working on fulfilling those dreams.