A Guide to Teaching and Talking About the Civil Rights Movement With Books for Children and Teens
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
About this book
The Sixties Trilogy by Deborah Wiles
Set against the backdrop of one of the most politically and culturally defining times in history, The Sixties Trilogy tells three stories of young people coming of age. Each book features contemporary newspaper clippings, photos, and images throughout.
The first book, Countdown (2010), received starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Horn Book. It was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010, a Booklist Editor’s Choice, and a Book Links Lasting Connection.
In Revolution, the second installment, it’s 1964 in Mississippi and twelve-year-old Sunny is focused on her own problems, rebelling against her new stepmother and adjusting to her step-siblings. When civil rights activists from around the country arrive to register black people to vote, white townspeople, including some she knows, will stop at nothing to uphold the status quo. Pulled into the turmoil, Sunny starts to look beyond her protected world to the lives of others like Raymond, a black boy who risks violence simply for entering a movie theater. Everything’s changing around Sunny, testing her courage and leading to hard choices, choices that could put her family—and maybe even her life—in danger.
About the Author
Deborah Wiles, who lived in many places growing up, spent most of her childhood summers with aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives in Jasper County, Mississippi. In 1964, the year she turned eleven, Deborah found big changes there. The public pool had closed, as had the ice cream parlor, the local theater, and the roller-skating rink. Looking back, she now knows the closings were a reaction to the Civil Rights Act that barred segregation in public places. She drew from her memories in writing Revolution. Deborah is the author of two picture books, One Wide Sky and Freedom Summer, as well as the award-winning novels Love, Ruby Lavender; Each Little Bird That Sings; and The Aurora County All-Stars.
The mother of four grown children, Deborah lives with her husband in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit her website, www.deborahwiles.com, for photos, resource documents, videos, films, documentaries, and more to pair with this guide.
Discussion Questions for Revolution
- How does Sunny change in the course of the book? Give specific examples. Consider Gillette’s view of Sunny (ch. 26). Do you agree with him? Why or why not? (RL.1, 3)
- Compare Sunny and Gillette. How are they alike? How are they different? What role, if any, does their gender play in their differences? How does their relationship change during the book? (RL.1, 3)
- One of the biggest changes over the course of the book concerns Sunny’s feelings about Annabelle. Find dialogue and actions that show Sunny’s feelings throughout the book, and discuss how you can tell that her feelings change. (RL.1, 3)
- Sunny calls Laura Mae the person who knows her best. Yet Sunny doesn’t even know that Laura Mae has a son in Chicago and doesn’t know his name (ch. 61). What does this say about their relationship? (RL.1, 3)
- Sunny narrates most of the novel. What are the advantages of having a first-person narrative? What are the drawbacks? Sometimes the viewpoint switches. Identify the sections that aren’t Sunny’s narration and discuss why the author included them. (RL.6)
- The novel opens with Sunny and Gillette sneaking into the swimming pool and briefly encountering Ray, although they don’t know him yet. How does this scene set the stage for the rest of the book? (RL.1, 5)
- The novel is divided into three parts: Encampment, Maneuvers, and Engagement. Discuss why the author divided the book this way. What do the section titles refer to? (RL.4, 5)
- Revolution contains photographs, song lyrics, documents like flyers and a voter registration form, cartoons, quotations, and more. How do these relate to each section of the book? How does this information affect your reading of the book? (RL.1, 7)
- In many ways, this is a book about courage. Find examples of the courage of different characters. Besides the courage it takes to face physical danger, what other kinds of courage can you find? (RL.2, 3)
- Reread the scene where Annabelle calls Sunny one of the bravest people she knows (ch. 60). When Sunny says she’s afraid all the time, Annabelle answers, “It’s okay to be afraid.” Why does she say that? (RL.2, 3)
- The civil rights workers believe that voting will change society. What consequences of black people not voting are shown in the book? How might voting change things? (RL.1, 2)
- Many white people in the book see no problem with segregation. In chapter 33, Parnell says that folks think, “We’ve always done it this way—separate but equal, and everybody’s happy—so why change it?” What are some of the laws and customs besides voting constraints that restrict black people? (RL.1, 2)
- Find examples that show intimidation of, or retaliation against, black people who were activists or who tried to register to vote. What was the effect of the intimidation? Why did some white people have such a violent reaction to the idea of blacks voting? (RL.1)
- White people who supported voting rights for black people were also intimidated or threatened. How was Sunny’s family threatened? Find other examples of threats and financial hardships to whites who supported voting rights.
- Revolution includes four Opinionated Biographies of Bob Moses, Lyndon Johnson, the Wednesday Women, and Muhammad Ali. In the Opinionated Biography of Bob Moses, it says, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” What does this mean? How did racial prejudice hurt white people as well as black people? (RL.1, 2, 3)
- Find examples of the role newspapers and television news played in the voter registration effort. Polly’s mother is a journalist. Polly says her mother is “real careful” about how she writes about civil rights (ch. 34). Why would she need to be careful?
- Discuss the role of baseball in this book. How does it connect characters? What’s the significance of Willie Mays and the fact that both Gillette and Ray consider him their favorite player? (RL.1, 2, 3)
- Churches and pastors were important in the civil rights movement. Find examples in this book. How do different white characters respond to the pastors? (RL.1, 2, 3)
- Look at different names for civil rights workers such as “agitators” versus “freedom workers.” What do the labels show about the people using them? Analyze how white people and black people address one another. Why does it matter, for example, when Sunny calls her father’s employee “Mr. Isaiah” (ch. 64)? (RL.3, 4)
- Revolution incorporates many song lyrics. What connection do the words have to the book? Why do you think the author placed the songs where they are in the book? (RL.1, 7)
- The author uses figurative language, imagery, and rich vocabulary throughout the novel. For example, chapter 4 includes similes (“as serious as a jail sentence”); alliteration (“worried about worse than whippings”); strong imagery (“his suffocating presence”); and vocabulary that might be new to you (cheeky; deliverance). Discuss how they enrich the story. (RL. 4)
The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
In 1964, three young men—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—were brutally murdered in Mississippi. As participants in the Freedom Summer effort to register black voters, they risked everything to work towards justice and equality. The murderers were members of the KKK who hoped the murders would deter other activists. Instead, the highly publicized crime outraged Americans around the country and strengthened the cause of civil rights. The Freedom Summer Murders, set in the context of the harshly segregated South, makes this crucial story personal by portraying the lives of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, and the families who have kept their memories and cause alive for fifty years.
About the Author
Don Mitchell is the author of two critically acclaimed biographies for young people: Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn/Foreword by John Glenn (2006) and Driven: A Photobiography of Henry Ford/Foreword by Lee Iacocca (2010). Born in Oklahoma, Mitchell was raised in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and California. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC; and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Mitchell worked as a public servant in the federal government for over twenty-four years, serving in the U.S. Senate as well as in the White House on the staff of the National Security Council.
Discussion Questions for The Freedom Summer Murders
- Compare and contrast the backgrounds of James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. What role did family play in their lives? What motivated each of them to fight for civil rights? In what ways were their attitudes and beliefs the same, and how were they different? (RIT.1, 3)
- Rita Schwerner said in 1989, “If all three of the men killed in Neshoba County had been black, the nation would have taken little notice.” Find evidence that supports her belief. Why was killing white men viewed as more significant? What does it say about attitudes towards race? Discuss whether you think that’s still true. (RIT.1, 2)
- Describe Michael Schwerner and identify factors in his background that led him to do civil rights work. What were his goals? How did others see him? (RIT.1, 3)
- The book opens with the murder of the three civil rights workers, then devotes a chapter to each man and his background. Discuss why the author arranges the book this way. Discuss how the rest of the book is structured, and why the author made those choices. (RIT.5)
- The KKK plays a major role throughout this book. Find specifics about what it did and the kind of attitudes its members shared. Give details about how southern law enforcement agencies treated the KKK and its crimes. (RIT.1)
- The Freedom Summer Murders opens with the words from the song, “We Shall Not Be Moved” and closes with “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle.” Examine the songs’ lyrics, and, if you can, listen to the songs. What connection do the words have to the book? Why do you think the author placed the songs in the book where he did? (RIT.1, 7)
- In the end, no one was convicted of murder for killing the three men. Who was convicted at different trials, and of what crimes? Why was it so hard to convict anyone of the murders? Do you think justice was served in this case? (RIT.1, 2)
- Following the Afterword are four biographical sketches. Why do you think the author included these? What is the relationship of each person to the Freedom Summer? Why did the author label them Saint, Visionary, Witness, and Investigator?
- Unlike writers of fiction, nonfiction authors can only quote actual, historically authenticated dialogue. How does the author of The Freedom Summer Murders use quotations from real people? Find specific quotations and discuss what they convey. What are the author’s sources for those and other quotations? (RIT.1)
- The author says of the three men, “In a sense, they were killed by institutional racism that in 1964 permeated every aspect of Mississippi’s legal, political, and social order.” Find examples of racism in these three areas. Why does the author call it “institutional racism”? How does being killed by institutional racism differ from more personal murders? (RIT.1, 2)
Learn More About the Civil Rights Movement
- The Freedom Summer of 1964 was part of the larger civil rights movement, which students can explore in other novels, nonfiction, and picture books. By learning about the history of segregation in schools, sports, and other areas of life, readers will be able to set Revolution and The Freedom Summer Murders in a broader context. Comparing books from different time periods serves as a powerful way to see changes over the years.
- Diane McWhorter’s A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 provides an excellent overview of the civil rights movement. Start with this book to create a timeline of the movement in order to better understand how the Freedom Summer fits in the whole. Then read some shorter books about important events, such as Pam Muñoz Ryan’s When Marian Sang, Sharon Robinson’s Promises to Keep, Ruby Bridges’s Through My Eyes, and Christine King Farris’s March On! Add these events to the timeline and discuss where they fit in the progress of civil rights over the years. (RL.1, 7)
- Baseball is important in Revolution, which mentions Willie Mays. Research another baseball player, Jackie Robinson, in books such as Sharon Robinson’s Jackie’s Nine and Promises to Keep, Barry Denenberg’s Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson, and Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack, Jr.’s Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Discuss why Jackie Robinson was so important in our history. (RL.1, 2)
- Revolution takes place in the summer of 1964 and focuses on voter registration in the South. Another main goal of the civil rights movement was desegregating schools. You can read a nonfiction account of Ruby Bridges’s experience in the picture book The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles or in Ruby Bridges’s autobiography for middle grade readers, Through My Eyes. There are also a number of novels about this topic, including Patricia McKissack’s A Friendship for Today, set in 1954; Andrea Davis Pinkney’s With the Might of Angels, also set in 1954; or Ann M. Martin’s Belle Teal, set in 1962. Read a nonfiction book and a novel on school integration and compare how they convey information and emotion. Read two or more of these stories and compare the time and place of each book as well as the main characters. (RL.1, 9)
- Compare Revolution to Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be. How does each book incorporate the town pool into its plot? Compare the main characters and the settings. (RL.1, 9)
- Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson takes place in the West decades after the Freedom Summer. Yet a murder in 1964 prompted by racism still echoes in the characters’ lives. Discuss how the novel shows the effect of that earlier racial hatred on the main characters. (RL.1, 3)
- Read the chapter in McWhorter’s A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 about the Freedom Summer. Identify people, places, and events in it that also appear in Revolution. Discuss the similarities and differences between how the events are portrayed in each book. (RL.7, 9)
- Deborah Wiles is writing a trilogy, of which Revolution is the second book. The first book, Countdown, takes place in 1962 and focuses on the Cold War. In what ways are the novels similar and different? Discuss the role of Franny’s older sister, Jo Ellen, in both books. (RL.1, 9)
- Common Core asks students to evaluate how different media present the same topic. Have students compare the effectiveness of books and movies in exploring civil rights and the Freedom Summer. One documentary is the PBS video Eyes on the Prize: Mississippi, Is This America? (1962–64), which includes the Freedom
- Summer voting effort and the murders. The made-for-television movie Murder in Mississippi (not rated) is a fictionalized retelling of the Freedom Summer Murders. Other videos to consider are the documentary Freedom Riders, from PBS’s American Experience, about integrating interstate buses; Separate But Equal, a reenactment with Sidney Poitier of the story of Brown v. Board of Education; and Ghosts of Mississippi with Whoopi Goldberg (PG-13) about the trial for the murder of Medgar Evers. (RL.7; RIT.7)
Common Core State Standards for Reading
Below are the general Anchor Standards used within this guide, which apply to all grades and cover Reading Literature (RL) and Reading Informational Text (RIT). Reading Literature: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9. Reading Informational Text: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6.
Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Scholastic Titles About the Civil Rights Movement
Books for Younger Readers
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
My First Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Marion Dane Bauer
Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges
I Have a Dream by Margaret Davidson
Talkin' About Bessie by Nikki Grimes
Great Black Heroes: Five Brilliant Scientists by Linda Jones and Ron Garnett
If You Lived at the Time of the Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo
Jackie Robinson: American Hero by Sharon Robinson
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan
Books for Middle Grade Readers: Fiction
Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine
Witness by Karen Hesse
Down to the Last Out, the Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues by Walter Dean Myers
Dear America: With the Might of Angels by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
Belle Teal by Ann M. Martin
A Friendship for Today by Patricia C. McKissack
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Books for Middle Grade Readers: Nonfiction
A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter
Freedom Heroines by Frieda Wishinsky
Peace Warriors by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Peaceful Heroes by Jonah Winter
Odetta by Stephen Alcorn
Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues by Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack, Jr.
Jackie's Nine by Sharon Robinson
Promises to Keep by Sharon Robinson
Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson by Barry Denenberg
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
I Am: John F. Kennedy by Grace Norwich
I Am: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Grace Norwich
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Dr. Christine King Farris
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson
42: The Official Movie Novel by Aaron Rosenberg
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers
Nelson Mandela: "No Easy Walk to Freedom" by Barry Denenberg
Nelson Mandela: Freedom for All by Jack Silbert
Books for Teens: Fiction
Books for Teens: Nonfiction
The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary by Walter Dean Myers
Guide by Kathleen Odean, who was a youth librarian for seventeen years, and now gives workshops on children’s and young adult books and Common Core nonfiction. She chaired the 2002 Newbery Committee and served on the 1996 Caldecott Committee. Kathleen teaches children’s and young adult literature at Mansfield University.