The new trade book Seeds of Freedom (Bass, 2015, Candlewick Press) is a good fit for 4th-6th grade students because it’s complex and has content worthy of close reading and collaborative discussions. Bass, the author, does not just tell a straightforward narrative about what happened in Huntsville, AL; instead her narrative requires the reader to make inferences about what was going on. The way she presents the information requires the reader to think critically about what was going on. Bass uses the metaphor of planting and growing seeds of freedom–tapping into what these seeds need to grow. For example, she writes, “But the seeds of freedom need news to grow, so another plan is hatched.” From there she describes “Blue Jean Sunday” when the African Americans boycotted local businesses and wore denim for Easter in 1962. The way she tells it, though, the reader has to make an inference that this was the “hatched” plan and the reader also has to infer how this was “news” to grow the seeds of freedom. With her audience in mind, the author has provided just enough content for the reader to do this. She continues to build on this idea of “needing news to grow the seeds of freedom” throughout the book.
While the publisher has listed this book for k-3rd grade, I think the ideas are conceptually way too challenging for this age group. If you get a copy of it, you’ll also see right away that there’s a large amount of text on each page (not too much for a read aloud to older students, though) and some of the illustrations are abstract. The illustrations are also mature enough for this older group of students; the book doesn’t have a “primary” feel.
I’d do the following with intermediate (at least 4th) and higher students (through 6th) –
1) Read this book aloud during an integrated unit of study;
2) Read aloud the author’s notes and discuss;
3) Ask the students to read excerpts from this text closely with an essential question in mind for discussion and for writing in response. Examples of questions (some that could be used with multiple excerpts) include –
“How does the description of Blue Jean Sunday serve to support one of the author’s main ideas?”
“Explain how the author uses evidence to support the idea that ‘seeds of freedom need news to grow.'”
“What is the author’s perspective on the movement in Huntsville? What in the text makes you think so?”
“What role did perseverance (patience, compassion, etc.) play in this movement?”
Background knowledge about Jim Crow and segregation would be helpful in understanding this book, but students could also read this book at the beginning of a unit of study as a way to begin an inquiry project into this period. They could generate questions for research as they hear this read aloud a second time or as they read it with a partner. This would be a good opportunity to compare texts on the same topic – even just comparing one page of text from this book with a primary source (news article, photo, memoir, etc.). It would be interesting to research others’ perspectives on what the author calls “the peaceful integration of Huntsville, Alabama.” The metaphor “seeds of change” or “growing seeds of change” could serve as a frame for thinking about/reading about other events in the civil rights movement and how it took time and perseverance for change to occur.
One disappointment (but not a deal breaker) – I thought the metaphor of growing seeds of freedom was powerful and used well in the first half of the book. I like the growing versus planting – it increases the rigor of this text. I felt like the development of the metaphor was weak in the second half of the book, though. For several pages in the first part of the book, the metaphor remained at the seed stage. Then late in the book there is one page where the “tender plant of freedom” is mentioned; at the end of that page, I was confused when the author wrote, “Are the seeds of freedom wilting?” I was thinking it should have been “Are the tender plants of freedom wilting?” There is no other mention of the tender plant and then on the last page, the last sentence, after the schools of Huntsville have been integrated, the author writes, “to taste the sweet fruit homegrown from the seeds of freedom.” It felt like a leap given the heavy emphasis on the seeds earlier in the book. BUT why not have students go back and think about events that revealed the growth of tender plants and how they might have wilted at certain points and then how the fruit was growing and so forth? This could help students move forward in reading other texts on the same topic and using this metaphor.
If you know me, you know I LOVE books on this period of American History. If you want more information on books I’d recommend reading with students, visit my Goodreads bookshelves–I have a general shelf of books on the Civil Rights Movement (1950-1970) and then two additional shelves with “text sets” for 3rd and for 6th-8th grade.
Okay…hope this helps.