Multicultural Picture Book

Read Aloud Lesson

"My name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth" by Ann Turner and illustrated by James Ransome

This read aloud is planned for third graders. "My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth" is a picture book that tells the true story of a former slave Isabella Baumfree who became the preacher and speaker Sojourner Truth. She spoke about equal rights long before the Civil War. The Author's Note at the end of the book gives a more detailed look at Sojourner Truth's life story and includes a list of references for further reading. The book is beautifully illustrated by Coretta Scott-King award-winning artist James Ransome. His watercolor images blend with the text, which dances on the page in different colors and fonts showing the animated voice of Sojourner.

Narrative

Author Ann Turner grew up loving the smell of paper and ink as the daughter of a print shop owner. She started out her career as a teacher, but decided she would rather write books than teach with them. Of the more than 35 books she's written, many are historical picture books. She sets her characters in different periods of history so readers can picture what it was like during that time. Her abolitionist great-grandmother Henrietta Chapin's journals about a slave auction inspired Turner's historical picture book "Nettie's Trip South." Other mementos from travels and family history have inspired her to write stories about people from different cultures. She has received several accolades, including the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Notable Book citation for four of her books. Her tendency to write strong characters is evident in "My Name is Truth." Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree in New York state and had 12 siblings. It was not uncommon for family members of slaves to be sold off to different owners, so Isabella was separated from her siblings. As Isabella grew into a woman, New York was starting the process of abolishing slavery, but not all owners were following the changes. Isabella couldn't wait, so she fled to freedom with her young daughter. When she found out her son had been sold off illegally, she fought in court to get him back. In 1843, after several years of working in domestic positions, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and started speaking about the abolition of slavery. She continued on in seeking justice for slaves even after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Turner's unique language and style of presenting Sojourner Truth's story is part of what makes it a quality piece of multicultural literature. The words dance across the page, and emotion is shown through the color and direction of the text. She gives authentic representations of the relationships between slaves and their owners by not leaving out the pain owners inflicted, nor the strong spirit of the slaves. While a summarized version, she represents an accurate story of Sojourner Truth's journey to her new name and purpose in life.
Sojourner Truth - Mini Biography

Instructional Sequence

1. Class, today I'm going to read you the book "My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth." But before I begin let's remember we will be at a level 0 unless I ask you a question. You will raise your hand for permission to speak, and you will keep you bodies still and hands and feet to yourself while I read.
2. Question #1
Now looking at this cover, what do you think this book is about? Wait for a few children to raise their hands and respond. "We're going to learn two words in our book today, and sojourner will be one of them." Hold up a paper with the word written out. "Say sojourner with me. Another word we're going to learn is respect. Hold up a paper with respect on it. Say that with me, respect. Make sure you listen for both of these words while I read the book."

3. Begin reading. At the end of page 6 ask the students, Question #2 "Why do you think they sold all of her siblings?" Wait for students to raise their hands to answer. Question #3 "And why was she worth more later on?" The students have had some instruction on slavery, so this can be an opportunity to ask them to expand on their prior knowledge. If not say, "During this time, black people were sold to different people to work for them. They were called slaves. They did no have a choice. They were owned by the people who paid for them, and they could not go live somewhere else."

4. "Let's read on to see what happens." When you reach the page where Sojourner starts to speak, stop and remind students of our two words. "Did you hear our two words on these pages? Let me read this sentence again, "now I am Sojourner because I travel far and long."Question #4 What clues does that sentence give us about what sojourner means?" Wait for students to raise their hands. Question #5 "If she travels far and long, how long do you think she stays in one place?" Wait for students to answer : probably not very long. "The context of the sentence is helping us know that sojourner must mean someone who travels and doesn't stay in one place for a long time. Did you see our other word on these pages? Yes, it's respect. Question #6 "Can someone tell me how her owners had treated her?" Wait for students to respond with information from the previous pages. Question #7 "But now she says she is getting respect at last. How are people treating her now?" Wait for students to say they are listening to her, and possibly say she is free.

5. "Let's keep those two words in our brains as we finish the story." Finish reading the book. "Wow, Sojourner Truth had an interesting life. and this book helped us learn two words. What were they again?" Hold up the pieces of paper for the students to repeat the words with you. "Now I want you all to go get your marker boards and then come back to your spot on the rug so we can practice learning these words."

6. "OK everyone write sojourner on your board (hold up your paper so they can remember how to spell it) and hold it up when you're done. Good. Now think, what part of speech is the word? Write it down on your board, and hold it up when you're done." Survey the boards to see if they all have noun. If they have another part of speech, ask them why they chose it an talk through their thought process. "Now write down a word that helps you remember what a sojourner is. Think about the sentence in the book that gave us clues." After they hold it up ask a few students to say their words.

7. Now let's work on our other word. Write out respect (hold up your paper so they can see it). Good job. What part of speech can respect be?" Students may say verb or noun, so have them explain their reasoning. "That is a word that can be used different ways. Write down a word on your board that makes you think of respect." Have a few students give their responses.

8. "Now I have one more task for you. I want you to think of one thing you learned in our book today and write it down on your white board. Hold it up when you're done, and we will share as a group." If time allows, have each child share.

9. Great job class. Thank you for letting me teach you about Sojourner Truth.

Reflection

(1) My cooperating teacher selected this book out of the three choices I presented to her. At first, I was hesitant to choose this book since it dealt with a serious and sensitive issue in history, and there were a few intense parts in the text. However, my CT pointed out that it would teach the children about empathy. Also, the students had already done some lessons about the civil rights and slavery. Their background knowledge would be enhanced with this story. This was evident in how they responded to my questions of why the people bought Sojourner. I could see them recalling information from their past lessons. It was like a light bulb went off in some of their brains as they made the connection. They also thought it was interesting that Sojourner was a real person from history.
(2, 3) I believe my strengths were using different voices for characters and using inflection to show movement and emotion within the text. My questions required them to think more deeply. Asking the part of speech for the two vocabulary words caused them to recall knowledge gained from previous lessons with their teacher. I asked the students to explain their answers as a way to make sure they were not just guessing. Having them write down one thing they learned from the book proved to be an encouraging exercise, because they came up with various excellent answers. Their eagerness to answer questions throughout the read aloud was also wonderful. However, that was also a challenge. I could not have everyone answer questions, so I tried to choose various people. I did call on a couple students who didn't raise their hands in order to include them, but I didn't reach everyone. Upon discussion with CT after the lesson, I realized it might have been better in some instances to have them share their answers with a shoulder partner rather than sharing as a whole group. That might have cut down on the waving of hands and talking before I called on students. In order to enhance the vocabulary instruction more, I could have asked them to use the words in a sentence. I do feel they left the lesson with a clear understanding of the words though.
(4) Implementing multicultural children’s literature that is culturally and linguistically diverse relative to my elementary students has built upon their current knowledge of slavery. It has also taught them about strength of character since Sojourner Truth did not give up, even under dire circumstances. One of my favorite responses about what they learned was, "She was not a quitter." Other students pointed out some of the more intense parts, such as that slaves were beaten until they bled. While I had worried about that part being too intense, they showed me how they can handle this truth from history. They taught me that students their age are able and willing to talk about social issues of the past, and books such as this one are an engaging tool for showing them how far we have come as a society.