Friday, December 12, 2008


Now we are reading Walk the World's Rim. This is a great book, used by Sonlight in Core 3. It's actually scheduled as one of the first books you read in Core 3 when you are studying American Indians, but we skipped it at that time. I don't remember my rationale for that back then, but it's working out perfectly to read it now, because Esteban is an African slave to one of the Spanish explorers.

The slave theme actually features prominantly in the story because there is such a contrast between Esteban's attitude toward being a slave and Chakao's attitude. In Chakao's mind, an Indian is a coward if he is enslaved because he didn't have the courage to fight his captors and prevent his enslavement. In Esteban's mind, it takes great courage to be a slave and serve your master with dignity.

Esteban was an intelligent, brave African explorer (he's not really African-American, is he? He was brought to Spain and is owned by a Spanish master. Therefore, I'd say he is African-Spanish. Hmmm.) The Indians were fascinated by him, his master valued him only as property, Chakao idolized him, and Cabeza de Vaca (I love that name--- Head of the Cow!) respected him as a valuable member of their party. Makes for interesting dynamics within the group!

It's an exciting, but very sad story. We're only about half-way through, but the girls are begging every day to "Just read one more chapter!"

Here is a worksheet on Esteban.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More Black History

Wow. This has been one of the most interesting studies we have done. We finished The Slave Ship. I would highly recommend this book. I don't know if all the historical facts are spot on. I was doing a little digging on the internet to find out more about the people in the story and some of the accounts I found were a little different. But it is a great story, told well and I think it gives a good picture for younger kids of the situation at the time. The last few chapters seem a little fantastic in that there is no mention of the Africans facing any animosity from anyone except their Spanish/Cuban "owners." Everyone likes them and treats them exceedingly well. They have lots of white friends. Maybe it DID happen like that. They were in New Haven, CT, among abolishonist whites. Maybe it did.

In any case, it was a great story and I'm pleased that we began with that one. My aim in this study has been to begin with where and how slavery began. I didn't want to just jump in to the Civil War, but I wanted the girls to understand the origins of slavery in America and how it differed from slavery throughout history.

The second book we read was Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World.
This was an excellent book, as well and a good next choice. (Really, I just browsed through the online library catalog and picked out whatever books seemed interesting. I probably checked out 40 books and we'll use 6 or 7 of them. I love my library!) This book gave a very good overview of slavery throughout history, moving into how the Africans cam to be enslaved in such numbers and how slavery in the Americas differed from historical slavery. It detailed the evolution of how Africans were captured for slavery, explained the Middle Passage, detailed the transport of Africans to the coast and their harrowing trip across the ocean.

The girls have been quick to point out the use of terms discounting the humanity of black by whites such as "creatures," "cargo," and such. We've talked much about the different world views of the Africans vs. the Americans. The horror of this whole piece of history is so great, that it's difficult to give 8 and 10 year olds enough to understand the tragedy without overwhelming them with the details of the atrocities.

The third book we read was the most awesome yet. The Old African, by Julius Lester, appears at first glance to be just another picture book made for young children.

Oh my goodness, no! Yes, the artwork is fabulous and beautiful and very appropriate for children. The girls were fascinated to see the pictures detailing the capture and transport of the Old African and his fellow Africans to the New World.

The text on the other hand! It's a good thing I am able to edit on the fly! This book is not for independent reading by children, nor for those who like to read over your shoulder as you read aloud. There is language, graphic details of the brutality the Africans suffered, a scene with $*xual overtones between a sailor and an African woman, suicide by the Africans, and, central to the story, a theme of magic and supernatural power.

Yet this book did more to give us a clear and graphic picture of the attitude of a slave owner, the brutality the slaves suffered, the confusion and fright the Africans suffered in their capture and transport over the ocean and the hope and overpowering desire for freedom all slaves carried, even those born into slavery.

I was near tears through most of this story, and if you know me, you know I am not a crier. I did a lot of editing as I read aloud. I'd urge anyone who wanted to use this book to preread it or be prepared to edit on the fly. I'm not sure I would have shared all the details with even my 13 year old. Maybe. Not without discussion, for sure.

So that was our day in history. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Black History

We're beginning a new study, looking at black history from Africa to America.  We are using the book A Kid's Guide to African American History as a spine and working our way through.

Yesterday we read about the ancient African kingdoms of Nubia and Egypt. We made sandstone columns. They were a little crumbly to carve so we thought we'd wait to carve them when they hardened. Yeah. Today they are too hard. Oh, well. It was fun to play with sand in December. 

Impatiently waiting for the dough to cool

Molding it into a column


Today we started and read half-way through the exciting book, The Slave Ship by Emma Gelders Sterne This is the story of the ship , the Amistad, which was a sugar schooner from Cuba overtaken by slaves recently arrived from Africa in 1839. They captured the ship and attempted to sail back to Africa. The white navigator onboard tricked them into sailing to America where their case was heard by the supreme court and, unbelievably, they were sent back to Africa!

The story is exciting and sometimes funny and it is giving us LOTS to talk about. We are exploring the attitudes of the Cuban slave trader (the poor Africans are better off now that they live in a civilized country), the Cuban plantation owners (examining the slaves on the auction block, considering them as stupid and animal-like, even as they sail the ship), the young slave boy of the captain who, although black was born into slavery and considers the Africans as stupid and ungrateful for their opportunities (since he is given beautiful clothes and a job for an important man). We are discussing the importance of material goods and a "civilized" life vs. freedom and fewer opportunities. We are seeing the brutality (although not over the top for an 8 and 10 year old) of the life of the African slaves. Most of all, we are getting a wonderful picture of the humanity of the African people, their pride and spirit.

Puzzle Races

Pepper and Daisy are having puzzle races.  They take two puzzles and dump all the pieces in the middle.  Then they race to see who can find all their pieces and finish her puzzle first.

Here they are using Lauri puzzles.