Subject Area: Language Arts
Reading Level: 5.1 (Advanced)
In Soon Be Free, Lois Ruby puts an unusual twist on the historical fiction genre. The engaging story spans two different time periods — the 1850s and the present day — and shuttles the reader between two worlds in the blink of an eye. In modern times, Dana and her friends must solve the mystery of the couple snooping around her parents' bed-and-breakfast, which was once a stop on the Underground Railroad and home to James Baylor Weaver, a famous architect. Back in 1857, James Weaver, along with his family and friends, must risk their lives to rescue runaway slaves and give them a safe haven in their home. As the novel twists and turns through time and space, will Dana and James's worlds collide?
Students will explore and deeply understand the narrative structure of a novel. They will accomplish this learning goal through examining time lines, discussion, noticing details and historical facts, sequencing events, and creating a double time line that illustrates the novel's structure. Standard: Understands specific devices an author uses to accomplish his or her purpose (narrative structure)
Review the opening section, "What Happened and When" (pp. vii-ix), with the class to get acquainted with the novel's historical background. Note that certain dates refer to actual historical events, while others are fictional.
Discuss: Based on this time line of events, what do you expect to find in this book? Make predictions about the novel's plot, characters, setting, etc. When needed, briefly explain key historical events.
- Read Chapters 1 and 2. What do you notice about the structure of the novel? How does this affect your reading? Do you see any connections between the two stories? Students will discuss how the story is set in two different time periods — the 1850s and the present. They will comment on how the book transports the reader quickly between the past and present, which may be confusing at first, but keeps the reader interested. They may also find connections between the story lines: Dana and her friends are trying to solve a mystery related to James Baylor Weaver, and the second story is about James Weaver's role in the Underground Railroad as a young boy.
- While reading the novel, ask students to keep a running log of important events for each chapter. Include both historical and fictional events (Example: In Chapter 12, James and his family discuss the Dred Scott case that was passed that day, and Mrs. Weaver decides that James will travel to Kentucky to meet the runaway slaves.)
- Explain to the class that for their final project, they will construct a Past & Present Time Line. Using their journal notes (see Step 3) and the time line from the book (see Warm-up Activity), create a double time line that charts major events from the two intersecting stories. For example, the 1850s time line will mark events in the life of young James Weaver, as well as significant historical moments. On the other hand, the modern time line will highlight events in Dana's journey to solve a mystery which traces back to the 1850s. In this way, students will visually represent the novel's dual story line and understand how the two stories intersect and weave together.
Other Books About Slavery in United States History
Letters From a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs
by Mary E. Lyons
A fictionalized account of the life of Harriet Jacobs, written in the form of letters she might have penned during her slavery in North Carolina and before her escape to the North in 1842.
When his family relocates from Los Angeles to Providence, Kenny realizes that his new home is haunted by the ghost of Caleb, a black slave boy who asks Kenny to travel back in time with him to the 1800s and prevent his murder by an evil slave owner.
Freedom's Wings: Corey's Diary, Kentucky to Ohio, 1857 (Dear America)
by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
Having learned to read and write from his father, Corey Birdsong records in his diary his daily life as a slave on the Hart Farm. But when Corey's father flees to the North, Corey's fate changes as he and his mother make the dangerous journey along the Underground Railroad.
Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky
by Faith Ringgold
Cassie Louise has lost her little brother, Be Be. He has gone back to the time when there were slaves. Now it's up to Cassie Louise to find Be Be before the bounty hunters find her. Will Cassie Louise encounter anyone who can help her?
The Drinking Gourd
by F.N. Monjo
A young boy learns that his home is a secret station on the Underground Railroad and helps a family of slaves follow the "drinking gourd" (Big Dipper) north to freedom.
The House of Dies Drear (Dies Drear Series)
by Virginia Hamilton
Thomas Small and his family discover tunnels, ghosts, and unexpected treasures when they move into Drear House, home of the legendary abolitionist, Dies Drear.
Other Books by Lois Ruby
Steal Away Home (companion to Soon Be Free)
Teaching Plan written by Lauren Gold