Tell students that they will be reading a book titled Cousins by Virginia Hamilton. It is a story about a large family that includes five cousins, all of them strong individuals. Sometimes they get along and sometimes they must struggle to understand one another. Tell students that they will see why eleven-year-old Cammy has trouble getting along with her cousin, Patricia Ann. As they read, ask them to note if the characters seem similar to any of their relatives.
Use the activity that is best suited for your class.
Option 1: Explore the theme of family ties by developing a discussion about family loyalties and rivalries. Ask students to share their concepts of family and what it means to them. Explain that a family, whether small or large, can include relatives who love each other as well as those who are sometimes jealous of one another. Draw a concept map on the chalkboard and fill in students' responses. A completed graphic might include the following:
(center of the web)
Branches of the web:
Option 2: Explore the idea of family relationships by drawing on students' prior knowledge of literature. Have them discuss other books in which family members are sometimes at odds with one another, or in which two relatives share an experience that leads them to a better understanding of the other person. If students have difficulty coming up with examples, you may suggest such books as The Broccoli Tapes and The Alfred Summer, both by Jan Slepian; Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, also by Virginia Hamilton, or My Brother Sam Is Dead by James and Christopher Collier.
Divide the class into small discussion groups. Ask each group to work together to describe the family members and other characters in the book and the problems they sometimes have trying to understand one another. Then organize a class discussion in which students state their opinions about the characters, and whether they were successful in dealing with their family problems.
Then distribute copies of the book. Call students' attention to the cover illustration. Point out that the two girls pictured on the cover are cousins. Ask if the girls look as if they might have trouble getting along with one another. Before beginning the story, tell students that, as they read, they should think how the family relationships depicted in Cousins may have applications in their own lives.