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February 15, 2018

The Other Side: A Symbolic View of Segregation

By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis (2001) is not news for some of you, but for me, it is the perfect newly discovered introduction to the civil rights segment of my Youths Who Change the World unit, a unit that explores how youths throughout history used their voices to speak out against socially unjust worlds.  

    In the civil rights segment of this unit, we read Teen Freedom Fighters, a gripping historical play from Scholastic Scope. Thanks to the generous folks at Scope, your students can walk beside the courageous youths who brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Other Side is perfect for introducing a difficult topic: segregation. Understanding segregation is necessary for my sixth graders to grasp the motivation behind the youthful voices that came together to change the world. The Other Side introduces the topic through exploring the power of symbolism in literature and the real world.

    (Teen Freedom Fighters courtesy of Scholastic Scope, February 2012)

    In the author’s note, Woodson explains that she wanted the story of Clover and Annie to be a book in which young people change the world each day through seemingly simple acts of resistance, and she wanted it to be about hope. And that, she certainly accomplishes. Who can walk away from this and not see a great opportunity to teach middle schoolers how to develop a voice in their world?

    On page after page, the fence is portrayed as a silent, yet powerful representation of segregation, a topic that the young girls in the story struggle to make sense of. The symbolic illustrations and the actions of the young girls require students to think deeper, beyond the literal meaning of the text and images. As the story unfolds, we are reminded that sometimes a solution is so simple, as simple as sitting together as friends perched on a fence, grasping a better view of the world.

     

    (The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson)

    After reading the picture book, students engage in small-group discussions to answer the deep-thinking questions below:

    Discussion Questions

    1. Discuss the importance of the setting.
    2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from the perspective of a young black girl?
    3. What does the fence symbolize?
    4. Why does Mama really mean when she tells Clover that it isn’t safe to climb over the fence?
    5. What gives Clover the courage to speak to Annie?
    6. How did sitting on the fence impact Annie’s relationship with her friends?
    7. How did Clover and Annie’s simple act of resistance change Clover's friends’ attitudes toward Annie?
    8. Why is sitting on the fence considered an act of resistance?
    9. Reread the first page. From Clover’s perspective, the fence seemed “bigger” this summer. What do you think Clover means by this?
    10. At the end, all the girls sit together on the fence. What message does this create?

    We discuss the symbolic fence in the story, a symbol of segregation, and how the image of the girls sitting together on the fence reveals the author’s underlying message of hope for our future that lies in our youths. We consider how a fence could represent other social injustices we might face in our world and how we can use friendships to overcome these challenges. Download the “Exploring Symbolism” handout to use in your classroom.

     

    If you are looking for other picture books to introduce a Civil Rights unit, check out the wonderful books below. They are an awesome addition to any middle school classroom library.

    We March by Shane W. Evans is a great resource for introducing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

     

    With Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford, students can further explore peaceful protesting and courageous actions that symbolize the desire for equality.

     

    White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman is another great book to teach symbolism. Coleman portrays a young girl's confusion that leads to an innocent protest. The white socks and the response of the community symbolically speak louder than words.

    A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson explores how the sweet smell of roses metaphorically represents smell of freedom in the air.

     

    The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis (2001) is not news for some of you, but for me, it is the perfect newly discovered introduction to the civil rights segment of my Youths Who Change the World unit, a unit that explores how youths throughout history used their voices to speak out against socially unjust worlds.  

    In the civil rights segment of this unit, we read Teen Freedom Fighters, a gripping historical play from Scholastic Scope. Thanks to the generous folks at Scope, your students can walk beside the courageous youths who brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Other Side is perfect for introducing a difficult topic: segregation. Understanding segregation is necessary for my sixth graders to grasp the motivation behind the youthful voices that came together to change the world. The Other Side introduces the topic through exploring the power of symbolism in literature and the real world.

    (Teen Freedom Fighters courtesy of Scholastic Scope, February 2012)

    In the author’s note, Woodson explains that she wanted the story of Clover and Annie to be a book in which young people change the world each day through seemingly simple acts of resistance, and she wanted it to be about hope. And that, she certainly accomplishes. Who can walk away from this and not see a great opportunity to teach middle schoolers how to develop a voice in their world?

    On page after page, the fence is portrayed as a silent, yet powerful representation of segregation, a topic that the young girls in the story struggle to make sense of. The symbolic illustrations and the actions of the young girls require students to think deeper, beyond the literal meaning of the text and images. As the story unfolds, we are reminded that sometimes a solution is so simple, as simple as sitting together as friends perched on a fence, grasping a better view of the world.

     

    (The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson)

    After reading the picture book, students engage in small-group discussions to answer the deep-thinking questions below:

    Discussion Questions

    1. Discuss the importance of the setting.
    2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from the perspective of a young black girl?
    3. What does the fence symbolize?
    4. Why does Mama really mean when she tells Clover that it isn’t safe to climb over the fence?
    5. What gives Clover the courage to speak to Annie?
    6. How did sitting on the fence impact Annie’s relationship with her friends?
    7. How did Clover and Annie’s simple act of resistance change Clover's friends’ attitudes toward Annie?
    8. Why is sitting on the fence considered an act of resistance?
    9. Reread the first page. From Clover’s perspective, the fence seemed “bigger” this summer. What do you think Clover means by this?
    10. At the end, all the girls sit together on the fence. What message does this create?

    We discuss the symbolic fence in the story, a symbol of segregation, and how the image of the girls sitting together on the fence reveals the author’s underlying message of hope for our future that lies in our youths. We consider how a fence could represent other social injustices we might face in our world and how we can use friendships to overcome these challenges. Download the “Exploring Symbolism” handout to use in your classroom.

     

    If you are looking for other picture books to introduce a Civil Rights unit, check out the wonderful books below. They are an awesome addition to any middle school classroom library.

    We March by Shane W. Evans is a great resource for introducing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

     

    With Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford, students can further explore peaceful protesting and courageous actions that symbolize the desire for equality.

     

    White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman is another great book to teach symbolism. Coleman portrays a young girl's confusion that leads to an innocent protest. The white socks and the response of the community symbolically speak louder than words.

    A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson explores how the sweet smell of roses metaphorically represents smell of freedom in the air.

     

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